What to do when an airline loses your luggage

These practical tips will help you get reunited with your lost bags, and make life a little easier in the meantime...

By Staff Writers, August 23 2022
What to do when an airline loses your luggage

Fuelled by chaos at airports and ongoing ‘operational issues’ at airlines, lost bags have joined cancelled or seriously delayed flights as major worries for travellers in 2022.

And there’s nothing more infuriating than waiting, and waiting, and waiting at the baggage carousel for your luggage, only to find that it never made it onto the flight in the first place.

While most ‘mishandled’ bags are eventually reunited with their owners, managing during the interim is a challenge in itself – especially when your suitcase contains the bulk of your clothing for the days or even weeks ahead.

Little wonder Apple’s AirTags have become the hot new travel accessory among iPhone owners looking to track their luggage, even if only for peace of mind in knowing your bag is on the same plane as you.

On short trips, you can of course avoid the risk of your checked luggage being lost or delayed by travelling with only carry-on bags.

Stay calm and carry on

But it’s not always possible to travel light – so if your luggage does go AWOL, it’s important to remain calm.

You’re not the first person to lose their bag, and as frustrating and annoying as it is, there’s nothing you can do right now to change that. And the 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. 

When filing the obligatory report with the airport’s baggage services staff (and don’t blame them, keep your cool and treat them with courtesy and respect), it helps if you can clearly describe your bag in detail: a “black hard shell four-wheel Samsonite bag” is a lot more useful than the generic “black bag.”

Savvy travellers take a few smartphone photos of their luggage before checking it in at the airport: if the bag goes missing, showing these photos to the service desk makes it very fast to accurately describe the bag.

When the baggage service office hands you a letter with details of your report, it will contain a 10-character reference number...

... and it’s not widely known that this number can let you check on the whereabouts of your bag through the international WorldTracer website, a "global baggage tracing and matching system” used by airlines and airports.

Once your lost bag is found, WorldTracer will show its planned ‘route of reconciliation’ – which flight or flights it will be on – and a quick Google search of each flight number should give you an idea of how long it’ll take to reach you.

We also suggest checking your contact details in WorldTracer (just enter your name and baggage reference number on the site).

Your contact details should already have been entered by the baggage service staff, but this small step can pick up if an incorrect address or phone number that will only furthered delay being reunited with your lost luggage.

Making do...

If you need to buy toiletries, basic clothing or other items to tide you over, make sure to keep your receipt in the event that cost can be covered by the airline or your travel insurance company. Just don’t go overboard on your initial shopping excursion without knowing what the limit is.

You’ll also want to make contact with the airline and your travel insurance company to check what you’re entitled to claim –  passengers with delayed baggage can normally be reimbursed for the cost of buying necessary clothes, toiletries and supplies up to a reasonable limit. (Note tha t travel insurance for lost or delayed baggage is often only payable on amounts above what the airline provides.)

This is also why many seasoned travellers pack a change of clothes or at least the bare essentials in their carry-on bag, as a Plan B in the event their check luggage is delayed.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

19 Feb 2016

Total posts 14

Great article - I never knew about the WorldTracer website.

A travel partner has had his luggage delayed multiple times when we are flying together. The airport gave him an amenity kit, and some cash to purchase more items and for the inconvenience.

I would recommend bringing items/tools that are essential for your business/purpose of travel in carry on would also be the way to go.

03 Jun 2019

Total posts 29

1 Get a Property Irregularity Report from an agent

2 Secretly hoping you bought the ticket with an eligible credit card that covers mishandled baggage

3 Double-dipping (where possible)

4 If lost, see if The Montreal Convention applies to your claim

22 Aug 2022

Total posts 1

Thanks for this article. I'm particularly interested in what to do when luggage is found and delivered but as with one occasion it's been heavily damaged. And on the second, consecutive occasion, the wine within it was repackaged and a bottle was taken. Of course I have logged the two events with the airline and have reference numbers. And after a month of no response, when speaking with Customer Service about another matter, made a further inquiry, was told that the second incident was a major concern and would be contacted in 24 hours. It's been over a month since that statement. I'm a P flyer and have received the $50 voucher and 15000 points offer. Am I just whinging?

Singapore Airlines - KrisFlyer

26 Sep 2018

Total posts 7

Great article.   I never fly domestically but  internationally you are entitled to compensation although I cannot verify that is in every single country.  The airlines  don't make a big deal of it for obvious reasons but if you demand compensation, they must pay. I have done that probably 3 times....eg in Qatar where they begrudgingly handed over about $75 AUD.  I noted that everybody else in the room didn't ask for it and didn't get it.  SQ is the only airline that has voluntarily offered me the compensation without asking .... And I know it wasn't even them  that lost my bag but the originating carrier (thank you SQ). 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

12 Feb 2021

Total posts 22

When flying Xiamen F class to my workplace in DLC via Fuzhou, my bags were lost and  never regained. Their DLC staff had to discuss with my PA in Mandarin as no English staff and was time consuming but  my issue was that after landing late at DLC at 0200, there was no staff to file a report and they would not do so by phone or other means so eventually  my bags were never located (3 months) and I was denied a claim. Those that know China, realise there is  no gmail/google search to gain help from other outposts to try to gain information. Fortunately I have possessions there and  always carry on anything imporrtant and in this case my professional files. Clothes and other  marterial things can be replaced even at our expense. MF rarely have F pax and a solid airline except for missing baggage. Just transferring some thoughts to  other experienced travellers.

I've never lost luggage, but 4 years ago, my flight from Manchester UK to Melbourne was delayed, so I only had an hour to change flights in Oman.  There was another transit stop in KL, which entailed also changing carrier.  When I got to Melbourne, my name was called and I was told that my case didn't make the flight--it would be on the next flight.  I was staying in Melbourne for a couple of nights and had a change of clothes in my hand luggage.  I had an appointment the next day and when I got back to the hotel, my case was in my room. I always have at least a change of clothes in hand luggage, as well as some toiletries and most of my medications--now looking forward to another trip to UK, probably next year.

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