What to do if your luggage is lost or delayed

Imagine this scenario ….

You have spent hours crammed into your seat on a flight, you finally land and get off the aircraft. You follow the signs to the baggage reclaim hall, and stand at the baggage carousel waiting for it to start up. Finally it does and you watch out for your luggage. More and more bags come around and get claimed by other passengers until it is empty. You continue to stand there like a lemon, hoping for more to arrive, but they don’t and the realization that your bag isn’t coming hits you. Your luggage is lost, or at best, delayed. It is not a nice feeling.

What to do if your luggage is lost

Although losing luggage is a fear for many passengers, it actually doesn’t happen that often, fortunately.

In over 40 years of air travel my bags have only ever been lost twice, and both times they arrived the next day.

The first time my bag was lost was in Kenya many years ago when it wasn’t put on the plane (despite there only being 3 passengers on the flight and one of those didn’t have any bags). East African Airways delivered my bag to my hotel the next day.

The second time was when my son and I were flying with Air Canada from Phoenix, Arizona to London, England via Toronto in Canada. We arrived in London but our bags did not. It turned out the geographically challenged check-in agent at Phoenix sent our bags to London, Ontario in Canada instead. But again the bags were delivered to my home the following day.

Tips to prevent your bags being lost

  1. Smart luggage tags are becoming ever more popular and are now relatively cheap. These allow bags to be located through various means including microchipping. The two most popular are:
    ReboundTAG – these include a radio frequency identification (RFID) microchip, an NFC microchip, a QR code, and a printed unique ID – all on one tag so that it works in every airport worldwide. It includes help with locating your bags. Full details and prices.
    ReturnMe Tags – If your bags are lost and found, ReturnMe will connect you to the finder directly. Finders receive a bonus gift as a reward. Full details and prices.
  2. When you check-in watch that the check-in agent puts the correct destination label on your bags. If I had my bags would have gone to London, UK and not London, Canada in my story above.
  3. As well as having your name and phone number in a tag on the outside of your bags (good value luggage tags) also put a piece of paper inside your bags on the top with your clothes with your name, phone number and, ideally, also put your destination airport too.
  4. It is not surprising that your bags are more likely to to be lost if you check-in late so try to avoid that. Also try to avoid booking connecting flights which are very close together.
  5. In order to minimize the possibility of your bags being stolen (which does happen and is a common reason for lost bags) try to get to the luggage carousel as quickly as possible and stand at the side of the carousel where people will exit the baggage hall. That way, as well as poking for your bags on the carousel you can keep your eyes on people leaving to make sure they don’t have any of your bags. They may not have picked them up deliberately of course, just by mistake, as many bags look alike, which is another common reason for lost bags
  6. When you are on your outbound flight then try to pack a change of clothes, underwear in your carry on. That way, if your bags do get lost or delayed then you will at least have something to change into.
  7. Make sure you have valid travel insurance to cover lost bags.
  8. Try to take your valuables in your carry on and also any medication that you must take.
  9. Make a list of any valuable items in your bags when you pack so that you can claim for everything if you need to.

So if your bags don’t arrive what should you do?

What to do if your luggage is lost

In the first instance you should take a look all around the baggage carousel to make sure no-one had taken your bag off by mistake and just left it on the floor. If it isn’t there then take a look at the other carousels as sometimes they do end up on the wrong one.

If you have no luck with that then head straight for the airline’s lost baggage counter, assuming there is one, otherwise find a one of the airline’s agents and explain to them that your bag has not arrived. Make sure they make a report and give you a copy.

As most baggage handling systems are computerized these days they can often locate your bag, or at least tell where it is in the world!

Lost baggage compensation

If you bag is declared lost by the airline then you may need to complete a lost baggage form in order to claim compensation. You will also need confirmation from the airline that the bag has been lost so you can claim on your travel insurance, if needs be.

The amount of compensation that an airline has to pay depends on a number of factors such as whether the flight is international or domestic as well as whether it is a US, European or another counties airline.

Of course, it is not in their interest to make the process easy so be prepared to have to produce receipts for the items you are claiming for. Often jewelry and other valuables will not be covered which is why you should take these with you in carry on bags. Don’t forget to include the suitcase itself in the claim.

If you do not want to make the claim yourself you can find companies to make a claim for you. They will handle everything for you with no charges if they are unsuccessful.

Damaged baggage compensation

Even if your bag arrives it may arrive damaged so always check for this when you pick up your bags. If these is damage then make sure you report it to the appropriate person before leaving the baggage hall. Also take photos of the damage on your phone or perhaps one of those old fashioned cameras!

Baggage Handlers Caught on Video Damaging Luggage

Delayed baggage compensation

Quite often bags have just been mishandled and are easily tracked by the airline and will reach you eventually. It is obviously very inconvenient, particularly if you are on the outbound leg of your trip. To arrive at your hotel with no clothes, toiletries etc is not particularly nice, particularly if you have gone from a cold to a hot climate, or vice versa, so are not dressed for the new climate.

You will have reported the lost bag to the airline and given them the address you will be staying at so hopefully your bags will arrive quickly. However, you may need to go out and buy yourself some toiletries, clothes, underwear etc to get you through so make sure you keep receipts for these as you will be able to claim them back from the airline or through your travel insurance.


If you are unhappy with the way the airline dealt with a lost bag or the compensation they offer then you can complain directly to the airline and also to the Department of Transport.

What happens to lost bags that aren’t returned?

Sometimes lost bags simply never find their owners, no matter how hard an airline might try. These usually end up either going to a lost baggage auction and are sold to people who hope to find some expensive items to sell. Others are sold to specialist lost baggage companies who dispose of the contents.

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