Travel Assistance 101: What to Do When Your Luggage Goes Missing

After a long and uncomfortable flight, you finally arrive at the baggage carousel only to realize that your baggage is nowhere in sight. Great. Besides having a business meeting in less than three hours, you still need to pick up your rental car, check into your hotel room and change into your meeting attire which, of course, is packed in your suitcase. Oh, and those meeting documents? Those were also stashed in your checked baggage for “safekeeping.” What now?


Don’t panic—chances are in your favor that you will (eventually) retrieve your luggage. In fact, According to the Department of Transportation, only 2% of luggage mishandled by airlines is forever lost or unclaimed. And while On Call members can give us a call and we’ll assist them through the process of finding their missing luggage, here’s what you can do if you find yourself in this situation:

Talk to Your Airline: The first thing you’ll need to do is talk to a representative at the airline’s baggage counter, which you can almost always find near the baggage carousel. Make sure you have the luggage receipt for every bag you checked when you first arrived at the airport—these are very important to keep with you as the attendant will use them to determine if your luggage is delayed, left behind in transit or completely lost. In the rare event your luggage has been declared lost, the employee will file a claim. Before you part ways, make sure you not only have a copy of the report, but also ask for a number that will put you in direct contact with the baggage counter (trust us—chances are high that you’ll need to call to follow-up). And often times, if you try calling an airline’s customer service, they will have no idea that you even filed a baggage claim.

Tip: File a report before you leave the airport. This not only eliminates hassles, but many airlines have claim filing deadlines. Also, keep your packing list in your carry-on (along with a clean change of clothes!) to make the claim process easier. That way, you won’t forget anything of value when the airline representative asks you for an itemized list of what you packed.

Know Your Rights: Luckily, over the past couple of years, the U.S. Department of Transportation has issued several federal rules to expand rights for fliers, but there are a few gray areas. For example, if your bags are delayed, airlines will pay “reasonable” expenses until they are found (keep your receipts so your airline can reimburse you).

If your luggage is deemed lost, many airlines have a maximum claim allowance, which is usually indicated on the back of your ticket, baggage receipt or on your airline’s website. It’s important to take these claim allowances into careful consideration, especially when you’re packing. For example, if your airline has a claim limit of $200, it’s definitely not smart to pack a $1,000 laptop inside your luggage (if you must take it, along with anything else of value, put them in your carry-on instead). There are no rules saying you can’t negotiate your maximum claim allowance, so if you feel comfortable doing so, it can’t hurt.

For bags lost or damaged on flights within the U.S, a liability limit of $3,300 applies to all passengers. Keep in mind that you will be reimbursed for the depreciated value of your items, so for example, the airline won’t give you the full $1,000 you paid for that camera three years ago. For international trips, the liability limits vary due to different international treaties. Before you leave, check your airline’s website so you’re familiar with their specifics, including check-in deadlines. Believe it or not, if you miss their check-in deadline, your airline is NOT responsible for your bag if it is delayed or lost.

Did you know? If you find yourself short of money to replace your lost or delayed items, check with your credit card provider if you used your credit card to book the flight—you might actually be eligible for some additional reimbursements. Also, some airlines will even front you the money to help you “survive” until your luggage is found, especially if your luggage goes missing far away from home.

Eliminate Hassles With Prevention: You can help prevent lost or delayed baggage with a few simple tricks:

    • Avoid tight connections when you’re planning your air travel—if you’re struggling to get to your next flight, chances are, the people in charge of your luggage are feeling frazzled too.
    • Take off any old tags from flights you have taken before as these might confuse the person responsible for directing the luggage.
    • Make sure that when you check in to your flight, the person checking your bags attaches the correct destination tags to all of your bags.
    • Put your name and phone number on the outside and inside of your luggage.
    • Use something to differentiate your suitcase, such as a colorful ribbon, to help avoid someone with similar-looking luggage from grabbing it by mistake.
    • Take a photo of your luggage, which you may help the airline employee identify it later.

Want to learn more?
On Call’s clients are encouraged to consult with us for the most up-to-date information on their destinations and recommendations around risk prevention and travel health planning. For everyone else, please feel free to get in touch with us for more information, as well as how On Call can help protect your travelers with our customized travel risk management and assistance programs.

For over 25 years, On Call International has provided fully-customized travel risk management and global assistance services protecting millions of travelers, their families, and their organizations. Contact us today and watch our video to learn more. You can also stay in touch with On Call’s in-house risk management, travel health and security experts by signing up for our quarterly Travel Risk Management (TRM) newsletter.