Five survival tips for when an airline loses your bag

By Chris C., January 25 2016
Five survival tips for when an airline loses your bag

TRAVEL TIP | There’s nothing more infuriating after a long flight than waiting, and waiting, and waiting at the baggage carousel for your suitcase, only to find that it hasn’t arrived.

While most ‘mishandled’ bags are eventually reunited with their owners, sweating it out in the interim can be a challenge in itself: particularly if your suitcase has the bulk of your clothing or important goodies like commercial samples for your own business or presentation.

For starters, it’s important to remain calm – you’re not the first passenger to lose their bag and certainly won’t be the last, and there’s nothing you can do right now to change that.

Instead, file the obligatory report with the baggage services staff at the airport. It helps if you can clearly describe your bag in detail: a “black hard shell four-wheel Samsonite Firelite 75cm spinner” is a lot more useful than a “black bag”, which won’t help your situation.

Once filed you’ll get a 10-character reference number…

… but what the printed letter forgets to mention is that regardless of the airline you travelled with, your reference number is linked to ‘WorldTracer’, the software program and website that helps to find and return your bag.

On reaching your hotel, make your next step checking your contact details in WorldTracer: easily done by visiting this website and entering your name and baggage reference number.

If an airline logo appears in the top left, you can safely ignore it...
If an airline logo appears in the top left, you can safely ignore it...

While good-intentioned, airport ground staff may have mistyped your preferred delivery address or phone number in the system – checking and updating these details as necessary will ensure your bag can be delivered as soon as it’s found, and that you’ll be notified ASAP.

Now that the admin tasks are all sorted, contact your travel insurer to check what you’re entitled to claim, as passengers with delayed baggage can normally be reimbursed for the cost of buying necessary clothes, toiletries and supplies up to a reasonable limit.

That’s not to say you can splash out on a $1,000 suit just because you’ve planned lunch with a client, but if you need basic business attire before heading to the office, appropriate dress shoes, a razor and shaving cream or anything else reasonable, it’s a fair claim to make.

It almost goes without saying, but keep the receipts for any of these expenses – you’ll need them to support your insurance claim, or to send to your company for possible reimbursement if your travel insurer won’t play ball.

Finally, periodically check back with WorldTracer. Once your bag is found, you’ll be able to see its planned ‘route of reconciliation’…

…and a quick Google search of each flight number should give you an idea of how long it’ll take to reach you.

If you’ll be waiting another day or two, you may be entitled to further compensation from your travel insurer to cover more clothes and amenities, allowing you to remain presentable until the bag eventually returns: decorated with many more labels than when you last saw it.

Also read: How to pack like a pro: roll some clothes, fold others

Follow Australian Business Traveller on Twitter: we're @AusBT

Chris C.

A former contributor to Executive Traveller, Chris lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins not just with a single step, but also a strong latte, a theatre ticket, and later in the day, a good gin and tonic.


Emirates Airlines - Skywards

30 Nov 2015

Total posts 743

United Airlines lost our luggage from Los Angeles to Seattle, they were calling my name when we arrived, I knew something was wrong, it eventually arrived at the hotel at about midnight. It was the only time it has ever happened,  I was told it did not make the flight, and would be at my hotel later that night. I remained calm, and even got a follow up phone call at my hotel to say it was leaving the airport.


Emirates Airlines - Skywards

30 Nov 2015

Total posts 743

and that was with a 3.5 hour lay over, don't know what went wrong there, very pathetic, no reason really.

29 Mar 2014

Total posts 81

Lost my bag on Malaysia when travelling CGK-KUL-LHR July two years ago. Didnt make the 65 minute connection and took 3 days for it to get to our hotel.

14 Apr 2014

Total posts 47

I flew on a connecting flight in September 2014 on Virgin Australia that connected to a Virgin America flight on the same booking. The Virgin America baggage staff at Newark were very helpful by managing to keep me updated on the status of my bag. For some weird reason the bag stayed in Sydney for an extra 2 days, but went on the exact flights I flew on 2 days earlier before being couriered to my hotel in New York. As I travelled with more than one bag it was more than easy to remain calm as I had no need to claim travel insurance but nevertheless it's frustrating. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

04 Jun 2015

Total posts 69

My tip for keeping your bag is do not mix the transfer desk at changi and JQ, tried it twice and lost it twice. Second time i was without my bag for 6 days. 


12 Apr 2013

Total posts 1451

China = disaster. My son tried and after his story I have no intention to try by myself. But they damn helpful in their own way – upon arrival home (to Australia) they send him a paper letter, we think with “thank you for flying with us”. “We think” because we understand damn nothing – everything except of address was in Chinese hieroglyphs.

12 Dec 2012

Total posts 1037

BA once lost my bag at LHR.

The computer didn't want to play nice when checking in with IB at BCN and I didn't have time to collect and recheck at MAD, so they did a manual tag. It made it to LHR, but not onto the onward flight to DXB.

Plan had been to collect the bag and put it in storage at DXB for the day trip to Dubai. Danta was going to reroute it to my next stop in SIN once it arrived in DXB, until I realised that it was arriving on the same aircraft I was returning to LHR on. So we just collected it off the belt and went over to check in.


Had a bag get misplaced at SYD T1 last year. Had it back the next day.

09 Aug 2015

Total posts 2

Suggest you also try TRACKDOT which is a device you put in your luggage and then get a notification once you land to let you know where your luggage is.  It's a great device and is very reassuring once when you get a notification that luggage is indeed at your destination and not elsewhere.  If your luggage is still at your point of departure or somewhere else you can go straight to the baggage office and by pass the carousel and that endless wait.  It's great and well worth a try.  

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

18 Jun 2015

Total posts 107

I always try to carry a change of socks and underwear in my carry on. At the very least I can shower in a lounge if i need to. 

Do travel insurance policies cover change in mode of transport that affect bag delivery?  Ie traveling to Venice on QF & BA then getting on a 7 day cruise. Thoughts on how insurance would cover that if bags didn't make it to Venice by the time the boat set sail?

21 Sep 2012

Total posts 51

Twice I've had my bags go AWOL (at ORD and AKL) and its not much fun but thankfully insurance have coughed up each time for emergency clothing.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

23 Oct 2013

Total posts 710

Finnair Lost one of my families four bags transferring from Milan via Helsinki to Singapore. 

The transfer was 5 minutes as the delayed Milan flight arrived we were whisked through passport control and straight onto the waiting flight which had been fully boarded and waiting for the 5 transit passengers from Milan.

Upon arrival in Singapore they had someone in the ground who knew one bag was missing and they had sent through the paperwork from Finland with a photo of the bag attached and a Eur 75 prepaid visa card. 

The bag arrived about 15 hours later into Singapore and it all worked out fine in the end. 

Something which Chris you did not mention is that if you are checking in to a hotel give them the tracking code and they will help in getting the bag back a to your room a bit quicker.


12 Apr 2013

Total posts 1451

Finnair is very good. Heck, they managed to transfer almost all your baggage in 15 min! I was flying with them BKK-HEL and MEL-BKK was with JQ. JQ misplaced my bag and lady on check in told me that I have to ask if my bag in the plane at the gate. When I came to the gate and asked, they told me yes, everything fine. I was surprised, because they have not seen my boarding pass yet; so I asked how do you know without knowing who am I? Answer was you just one passenger like this and whole ground stuff was aware and searching for your bag.

25 Feb 2013

Total posts 66

The way the airline handles it is important too. QF's habit of constantly losing my bag on evening Brisbane to Canberra flights before big morning meetings is why I'm now Platinum with Virgin. 

Losing a bag is always frustrating. However when airline reps tell you 'it's your fault' for not taking what you needed that day in your carry-on it makes it a lot more so. Each of the four times it happened they wouldn't even give me a toothbrush so I could at least go to bed with clean teeth.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

18 Feb 2015

Total posts 120

Hi Chris 

can you please explain the airlines responsibilities when this occurs. You talk about travel insurance, but surly the airline has some liability here??

24 Apr 2012

Total posts 2575

Hi moecat, their liability would fall under either the Montreal Convention or the Warsaw Convention – you can Google either of these terms for more detailed information. :)


12 Apr 2013

Total posts 1451

Does not matter whom you travel with, pack you bare essential (like change of socks and underwear) in cabin baggage – there is nothing more frustrating then arriving to hotel and take shower and have nothing to put on except of your dirty closing. Basically pack whatever you need to survive 2 days without your main baggage and without going shopping. Remember – no one protected from lost baggage.

30 Aug 2013

Total posts 444

Absolutely stay calm. Baggage services are well known for being amongst the least friendly and helpful people at the airport - all they do all day is have people yell at them. Always carry some extra clothes on your carry-on for this purpose. My bag was left behind in IST and while it was very frustrating, it wasn't the end of the world. I got it back a few days later safe and sound. 

Dont let it ruin your holiday and dont spend hours everyday calling up trying to get someone to listen.


27 Jan 2016

Total posts 7

Delta at Anchorage played switcheroo! Bag not lost, just delayed, will deliver. But they delivered someone else's bag to our B&B while we were at dinner. Problem was, Delta phone and online system had no way of dealing with this, as bag was offically delivered according to them - the call system required the number, then rejected us - no option to talk to someone. Trying to log a new 'lost bag' also wouldn't work as when they identified us, they again linked us to the number and end of conversation. No phone access to the terminal luggage desk either. Had to go out there and become a sleuth to find the delivery driver as the luggage desk assured us bag WAS delivered. Said so on their system. Thankfully we found the driver around midnight, who worked out what she had done, and fixed it for us - fast and pleasantly. As ours had been delivered to a major, hundreds of rooms, hotel (as we discovered later) we may never have seen it again. Tried claiming our taxi fares but to no avail, as this error is not one their system allowed for.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 Oct 2014

Total posts 688

A couple of tricks I've learned through frequent travel :

1) we all have cellphones. Always take a pic of your luggage. Makes it so much easier and faster to interact with airline personnel - no standing around looking at hand-drawn replicas of what your luggage looks like. A picture tells a thousand words.

2) if 'in-trip', when Lost Luggage report is lodged at the airport, then immediately ask for a 'comfort pack'. This is usually - outside Australia - a F or J Amenities pack and if you're lucky (as I was with Star Alliance in Frankfurt) a fresh 'Star Alliance' T-Shirt / pyjama set or two.

3) ALWAYS clarify the expenditure limit with the report officer, prior to spending on replacement or temporary items. Often travel insurance for lost / delayed baggage is only payable on amounts *above* what the airline provides, so know your entitlements from the airline from the start.

4) These days, most 4-5 star hotels will provide you with personal items such as razors, toothbrushes etc from the front desk, if they understand that your luggage has gone on its own independent holiday.

5) If you're in the habit of using 'airline luggage labels', check after each sector to see how robust yours are. Tags that are a bit tatty are easily torn by 'ramp' staff, luggage can get wet if left outside while being loaded etc, so give your luggage it's best chance either with a solid custom (leather or plastic) identifier OR regularly replace the cardboard airline ones.

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