What to do if Airline Lost or Delayed Your Luggage

Claudia Diaz - Airlines - November 13, 2022

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This year has seen an unprecedented number of flight cancelations and delays. This of course has resulted in issues with checked baggage being delayed, or lost in transit. Thankfully, the Department of Transportation and a majority of airlines have systems in place to help passengers when disaster strikes. In this article, we have included each major airline's policy for lost or delayed luggage. If an airline fails to protect your rights, you can consider taking an airline to small claims court if your luggage was lost or delayed. 

An Airline's Lost Luggage Responsibility

The Department of Transportation (DOT) regulates domestic travel in the United States. Under the DOT’s lost or delayed baggage article, you will find set regulations that airlines need to follow when handling passenger luggage. Additionally, DOT regulates international travel through relevant international treaties (Warsaw Convention and the Montreal Convention). 

Here is a Summary of What Airlines are Responsible For When They Lose Your Luggage: 

  • After your baggage has been declared lost, the airline is responsible for compensating you for your bags’ contents

  • For domestic flights, the DOT allows airlines to limit their liability. The maximum amount an airline has to pay you for lost or delayed luggage on a domestic flight is $3,800. Airlines may pay more than the limit but are not required to do so. 

  • For most international flights, a treaty called the Montreal Convention applies to the carriage of baggage. The maximum amount an airline has to pay you for lost or delayed luggage on an international flight covered by the Montreal Convention is approximately $1,780.00. As with domestic flights, airlines are free to pay more than the limit but are not required to do so.

  • In certain situations, the Montreal Convention may not apply, instead, an older treaty called the “Warsaw Convention” will apply. In most airlines’ conditions of carriage, they will note which convention applies and the level of responsibility the airline owes you.  

  • Airlines may ask that you provide receipts or other proof for valuable items that were in the lost bags before compensating you

  • Airlines lost luggage compensation also requires them to refund any fees you paid the airline to transport the baggage that was lost.

When is Luggage Considered “Lost”?

Check with the airline you are traveling with as airlines tend to have different policies to determine when a bag is lost. Most airlines will declare a bag lost between 5-14 days after the flight. 

An Airline's Delayed Luggage Responsibility

When you arrive at your dream destination but your luggage does not, it turns what is supposed to be a vacation into a stressful event. But don’t stress, you have rights and you should be empowered to assert them.

Here is a summary of an airline's delayed luggage responsibilities: 

  • When a checked bag does not arrive at its final destination, airlines are responsible for locating the bag. This is why airlines have tracking systems in place that allow them to identify the bag’s location. Your airline may even offer applications for cell phones or other electronic devices which show passengers the location of their baggage.   

  • Airlines are required to compensate passengers for reasonable expenses that they may incur while their bags are delayed. For example, if you had your clothes in your checked bag and your flight lands without your bag you may be compensated for any expenses incurred because you did not have clothes until your bag was found. Ultimately, it will be up to a judge to decide what are “reasonable expenses” if you need to escalate to small claims court. 

  • Airlines are not allowed to set an arbitrary daily amount to cover your expenses while your bag was lost. For example, an airline cannot have a policy that states passengers will be reimbursed only up to $40 for each day that a bag is delayed.

Do not forget to file a baggage claim with your airline as soon as possible if your baggage is delayed, and make sure to stay in contact with the airline during the baggage location process. 

Special Rules for Assistive Devices 

Assistive devices, which are defined as any piece of equipment that assists a passenger with a disability (cane, crutches, prosthetics, wheelchairs, hearing aids, etc.), are regulated differently.

Here is a summary of an airline’s assistive devices responsibility: 

  • If an airline loses an assistive device on a domestic flight, the airline is responsible for the original purchase price of the assistive device. For example, if an airline loses a $15,000 prosthetic leg during a domestic flight, the airline is responsible for $15,000. 

  • For international flights, assistive devices are subject to the maximum liability limit set by the applicable international treaty.

Here is the code section that goes over assistive devices: Code of Federal Regulations 14 CFR sec. 382.131

Consider Suing an Airline in Small Claims Court 

What happens if you followed the procedures set out by the airline that caused your luggage to be delayed or lost and it lead nowhere? Consider filing a lawsuit against the airline in small claims court. 

Small claims courts handle a wide variety of property-related lawsuits which include lawsuits for lost luggage by an airline. Small claims court is also an affordable and user-friendly way for you to sue an airline for lost or delayed luggage. 

What if I did not follow the airlines’ procedures, can I still file a small claims lawsuit?

Ultimately, it is up to the judge to decide whether you should have followed the airline’s procedures or whether the airline’s procedures were fair. 

We have written an entire article on how to sue an airline in small claims. You can also consider filing a complaint against the airline with the Department of Transportation. 

List of Airline Policies for Lost and Delayed Luggage 

Each airline has its own policy for lost and delayed luggage so make sure to follow their procedure. We have listed many of the major airline procedures for lost and delayed luggage below. Please keep in mind that an airline's procedures may change from time to time so make sure to check the airline's website for the most up to date information.   

American Airlines 

If you notice your baggage did not arrive at the airport once your flight lands your priority is to report the delay to an American Airlines agent at the airport. Below are the steps you should take if you flew with American Airlines and your luggage was lost or delayed. 

  1. AA treats missing bags as delayed bags before officially declaring them lost. As discussed above the first step you should take if you are unable to locate your bag at the airport is to speak to an AA agent. The AA agent will provide you with a 13-character reference number when you file your claim with them. 

  2. American Airlines also has a Find Your Bags tool you can use to track your missing baggage.

  3. If 5 or more days have passed and you still do not have your bags you will need to fill out a Passenger Property Questionnaire.

  4. Send your claim details and the completed questionnaire forms to American Airlines using this online contact form. Choose Delayed Bag Expenses as the subject of the contact form.

  5. American Airlines’ Central Baggage Resolution Office will make every effort to locate your bag, but if they are unsuccessful they will resolve the problem according to their contract of carriage

  6. A final decision will be sent to you by email. While you wait, you can contact American Airlines using the same online contact form as above.

Air Canada 

If your baggage does not arrive at the airport after flying Air Canada you need to follow the steps below to file a claim with Air Canada and hopefully locate your baggage, in case they are simply delayed and not lost. 

  1.  If you can’t locate your checked baggage upon arrival, the first thing you'll need to do is notify a baggage service agent of the airline at your final destination. You will need to provide your contact information, baggage claim stubs, boarding passes, and a detailed description of your baggage and its contents. With this information, the agent will create a WorldTracer incident report. 

  2. You can update or review the status of your delayed baggage by accessing the WorldTracer website here

  3. If your bags are still missing after 3 days, you’ll be required to complete the Baggage Tracing form via Air Canada’s Baggage Issues section on the Let Us Know form. At this point, the Central Baggage Tracing Team will assist you. 

In addition to filing a claim, Air Canada also gives you a baggage fee refund for delayed baggage for flights operated by Air Canada, Air Canada Rouge, or Air Canada Express. While you are without your belongings because your baggage was delayed, Air Canada will reimburse you for reasonable expenses that you’ve incurred for essential items. Examples of essential items include clothes and toiletries or sports equipment rental. To be reimbursed you will need receipts for all expenses. You may request reimbursement by completing the Submit Expenses section via Air Canada’s Let Us Know form. To be processed, claims must be submitted within 21 days from the date on which you received your delayed baggage. 

For information on Air Canada’s liability for delayed or lost baggage review their condition of carriage

Delta 

If you flew with Delta and your baggage was delayed, you should be aware of Delta’s 20-minute guarantee. “If your checked bag doesn't arrive at the carousel in 20 minutes or less after any domestic flight, you are eligible to receive 2,500 bonus miles. Just complete this form no later than three days after your flight's arrival. Requests should only be submitted after your flight.” Note that you must be a SkyMiles member to be eligible and requests for multiple flights must be made separately. If your luggage was lost or delayed for more than 20 minutes, follow the steps below to file a claim.

  1. First, notify a Delta representative to receive a file reference number which you will need to initiate a claim. Note you may be eligible for a bag fee rebate if your first or second checked bag was delayed for more than 12 hours after submitting a report with a baggage service agent. 

  2. To submit a claim with Delta for delayed luggage complete the online baggage claim form. You will also need to fill out this form to be compensated for reasonable expenses up to $50 per day for the first 5 days that the luggage is delayed. You may track your luggage online as well in the link here

  3. If your bags are still not found after 5 days, file a claim on the Delta website using the same online baggage claim form. You can also report lost luggage to Delta using the link here

For information on Delta’s liability for delayed or lost baggage review their contract of carriage

Air France 

Unfortunately, international travelers are dealing with delayed or lost luggage as much as domestic flyers. If you flew Air France and cannot find your luggage in the baggage claim area it may be delayed or lost. In the event, this happens to you follow the steps below to file a report with Air France.

  1. You will first want to declare your missing baggage either at the Air France KLM baggage office at the airport or online within 48 hours of your arrival. 

  2. If the airline can’t locate your luggage after 72 hours of you reporting the delay, you can fill out the inventory and claim form on the baggage tracker tool. Make sure to describe your missing baggage as accurately as possible and specify the value of each item.

  3. Air France declares baggage lost if it is not found within 21 days of your flight. Air France will initiate a compensation claim based on the item values you specified. You will be required to provide receipts or proof of purchase to claim reimbursement for lost luggage. You can also be reimbursed for expenses on necessities. Fill out the reimbursement form online.

For information on Air France’s liability for delayed or lost baggage review their condition of carriage

United Airlines 

If you lose your baggage while on a United Airlines flight, you can file a claim with the airline. You can file a claim at the airport with the Baggage Service Office. Otherwise, you can submit a claim online. Below are the steps for filing a claim for lost or delayed baggage with United Airlines. 

  1. United Airlines considers luggage that did not arrive with you at your destination as delayed. If you flew United Airlines and your baggage was delayed you may receive compensation for your expenses (you need to show receipts) for the period during which your luggage was delayed. You can do this at the airport if you go to United Airlines’ Baggage Service Office. Otherwise, call the Baggage Service Office at 1-800-335-2247 or file a claim with United Airlines online using the link here.

  2. If your luggage cannot be found for 5 days or more, United Airlines pays up to $1,500 per bag for the value of the bags and their contents without requiring documentation. This includes any fees you paid to check your bags. If the value of your lost bags and their contents is more than $1,500, you can submit a claim form with documentation and receipts to claim up to $3,800 for domestic U.S. flights. This maximum value is $1,900 for international flights. Use the same links and phone numbers above to file a claim with United Airlines for lost baggage. 

For information on United Airlines’ liability for delayed or lost baggage review their contract of carriage

Lufthansa 

Due to staff shortages, technical problems with the baggage handling areas, and other airline industry situations travelers that fly Lufthansa experience baggage delays or losses. If your baggage does not arrive at the airport when your Lufthansa flight lands follow the steps below.

  1. Report the delayed baggage to Lufthansa in person or online using the link here

  2. You can track the progress online using the reference number provided to you when you report the delay. To track go here. As soon as your baggage turns up at your destination airport, Lufthansa will contact you to set up a delivery time.

  3. If your baggage has not been found within 5 days of reporting the delay, provide Lufthansa with a detailed description of the item of baggage and its contents. Fill out the list of contents on the baggage status page in Step 2 which you will be able to access automatically 5 days after reporting your lost baggage to Lufthansa.

To view, Lufthansa’s condition of carriage use the link here. Note that valuable items such as jewelry, money, or laptops are required to be transported in your carry-on baggage and are excluded from liability, meaning Lufthansa does not take responsibility for these items if they go missing.

British Airways 

If you flew British Airways and your luggage is missing there are steps you can take to try to recover delayed or lost baggage. 

  1. First of all, at the airport, you can speak to a British Airways representative. You can also report delayed baggage online through the British Airways baggage portal. Missing bags should be reported within 8 days of your flight.

  2. After reporting your delayed bag you can use the delayed baggage report number to log into the British Airways baggage tracing system and check the status of your delayed bag. 

  3. You can also file a claim for essential items such as toiletries if your bag was delayed. You will need to show receipts when you file this claim. To make a claim go here

For information on British Airways’ liability for delayed or lost baggage review their conditions of carriage 

KLM Airlines 

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines is one of the oldest airlines in the world and is part of the Air France-KLM group. KLM has very similar policies to other airlines when it comes to lost or delayed baggage. For these policies and what to do if you have missing baggage see below.

  1. You can declare missing baggage at the airport at the baggage desk or online here within 48 hours after your arrival. After creating a report, you’ll receive a Property Irregularity Report (PIR) with a file reference number. With this number, you can keep track of the status of your report. Once your baggage has been located, KLM will contact you to arrange delivery. Currently, you cannot report your missing baggage online if the airport you arrived at was: Aberdeen, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Humberside, Inverness, Leeds Bradford, London City, London Heathrow, Manchester, Newcastle, Norwich, Southampton or Teesside.

  2. 24 hours after your report, you can check the status of your baggage using the baggage tracking system.  

  3. In the event your baggage has been lost or cannot be located within 21 days, contact the KLM Customer Contact Center at (800) 618-0104 to submit a claim. 

You can also receive compensation from KLM for extra items you needed to buy because of delayed baggage, for such items as toiletries and clothing. Remember to report for compensation within 21 days from the day your luggage was delivered to you. Make sure to keep the receipt of the items you bought and send KLM a copy. You can request compensation here

For information on KLM’s liability for delayed or lost baggage review their global conditions of carriage, depending on the country you flew into there also may be specific conditions you need to review.  

Southwest Airlines 

Southwest Airlines is one of the largest airlines offering low-cost flights in the world, during peak season they handle around 4,000 daily departures. Because of the sheer volume of passengers that fly with Southwest everyday baggage is bound to be delayed or lost. If your bags have been delayed or lost during a Southwest flight follow the steps below to file a claim. 

  1. Report baggage problems within 4 hours of your arrival at your destination either in person at the Southwest Airlines Baggage Service Office (look around the baggage claim area or the ticket counter) or contact Southwest Airlines at (800)-435-9792.

  2. You will be given a receipt of the report after you've spoken with one of the Southwest Airlines Baggage Agents. From there, you will also receive updates on the status of your baggage along with the direct contact number in case you wanted to check on the status of your bags yourself. Currently, the only way of checking the status is by calling Southwest, you cannot check online.

  3. If your bag has been lost and cannot be located after 5 days of you filing your report you will need to go to Southwest’s Baggage Claim Web Portal and fill out a claim form. To access the portal use the incident number you first received when you reported the delayed baggage. 

For information on Southwest Airlines’ liability for delayed or lost baggage review their contract of carriage

Aer Lingus 

After arriving at the airport did you realize that your baggage did not reach the airport after an Aer Lingus flight? This is not uncommon given the worldwide flight delays and cancellations. Follow the steps below to report delayed or lost baggage to Aer Lingus. 

  1. You can report lost or delayed baggage in person at the airport or online here.  

  2. After reporting the missing bag check the status of your baggage here

  3. If you have not received your baggage after 3 days, download and fill out a delayed baggage questionnaire. Return the questionnaire to central.baggage-tracing@aerlingus.com

  4. You may also be compensated for your missing baggage. To be compensated you must submit your claim to the Customer Relations department using the Post Travel Enquiry form. Make sure to include the baggage tracing number, a list of your expenses, and the receipts for these expenses. 

For information on Aer Lingus’ liability for delayed or lost baggage review their conditions of carriage

Alaska Airlines 

Similar to Delta, Alaska Airlines offers a 20-minute guarantee for baggage arriving at the airport. This means that if your luggage is delayed longer than 20 minutes after your plane arrives at its gate, an agent at the airport can provide you with a $25 discount code or 2,500 miles. Be aware that you need to request this voucher within 2 hours of your flight’s arrival. To file a report or claim because your baggage was delayed or lost during an Alaska Airlines flight follow the steps below. 

  1. File a claim with an agent at the airport or report issues to the Alaska Airlines Baggage Service Office over the phone.

  2. To check the status of your report contact the office or make a profile on the Alaska Airlines Baggage Portal

  3. If your bag is still delayed after 5 days your filed report automatically transfers to Alaska’s Central Baggage Service office. The Central Baggage Service office will mail you this statement of mishandling form within two weeks.

To be reimbursed by Alaska Airlines for travel essentials you buy while your baggage is missing fill out the statement of mishandling form.

Mail your receipts and the form to the Central Baggage Service Office at the following address: 

Alaska Airlines

Attn: Central Baggage Service/SEALZ

PO Box 68900

Seattle, WA 98168-0900

For information on Alaska Airlines’ liability for delayed or lost baggage download their contract of carriage using the link here in English or Spanish. 

Turkish Airlines 

If you took a flight with Turkish Airlines and realize that your baggage is missing after arriving at the airport follow the steps below to report lost or delayed baggage to Turkish Airlines.  

  1. Once you notice your bags are missing contact the officials at the Turkish Airlines’ Lost and Found Office at the airport. They will give you a lost baggage form to fill out. You can also fill out an online form here

  2. For lost baggage unable to be located within 5 days after your arrival, Turkish Airlines will ask for a detailed list of the belongings in your lost baggage and the value of the items. In cases where you do not receive a request, you may use the same link as above and create a new request yourself.

  3. If you had to make necessary expenses because of your delayed baggage, keep all receipts in order to be compensated for them. Make sure to apply for compensation using the same link within 21 days of you receiving your delayed baggage. 

For information on Turkish Airlines’ liability for delayed or lost baggage review their conditions of carriage.  

JetBlue 

If you flew on a JetBlue flight and landed at the airport but did not see your baggage at baggage claim your baggage may just be delayed or in the worst-case scenario lost. Here are the steps to follow if your baggage is delayed or lost because of JetBlue Airlines: 

  1. Contact JetBlue within 4 hours of landing to file a claim.

  2. You can file a claim with JetBlue by calling JetBlue Central Baggage Services at (866)-538-5438 or file a report with a JetBlue representative at the airport. 

  3. Your final option to file a claim is online using the link here

For information on JetBlue’s liability for delayed or lost baggage review their contract of carriage

Spirit Airlines 

If you flew Spirit Airlines and arrive at the airport only to realize that your baggage was delayed or lost follow the steps below to file a report with Spirit Airlines. 

  1. Inform a Spirit representative in the Baggage Claim area or Baggage Service Office at the airport. Passengers traveling domestically must file an incident report within 4 hours of arrival. Passengers traveling internationally must file an incident report within 21 days of arrival. 

  2. If while you waited for your delayed or lost luggage you had to purchase necessities like clothing hold on to the original receipts. Once your bags have been returned to you, submit a claim for the expenses here

  3. If your bag is not recovered within 5 days, complete a baggage claim. To submit an online baggage claim use the Spirit Airlines Baggage Service Portal

Note that like other airlines, Spirit Airlines does not take responsibility for all types of items. For example, cologne, perfume, and cosmetics are not covered. For a full list, please visit Spirit airlines' contract of carriage.

Iberia Airlines 

Iberia Airlines has policies in place for passengers who are dealing with lost or delayed baggage. See the steps below to find out what to do if you flew Iberia Airlines and your baggage is missing. 

  1. If you have missing baggage go to the airport arrivals lounge and fill out a Property Irregularity Report (PIR). You can also file a PIR online using the WorldTracer Portal. In this portal, you will be able to check the status of your delayed baggage as well.

  2. Iberia Airlines will compensate you for the delays if you have to purchase in the interim any necessities like clothes or toiletries. You will also be compensated for missing bags. However, you will need receipts and documentation when you make your claim to be properly reimbursed. 

  3. File a report for delayed or lost luggage within 21 days of arrival at the airport to be compensated. 

For information on Iberia Airlines’ liability for delayed or lost baggage review their conditions of carriage

Frontier Airlines 

Frontier Airlines lost baggage policy defines several methods available for passengers dealing with missing baggage. The most important thing for passengers to do is to report baggage problems to Frontier Airlines as soon as possible. Below we have included the steps to take to file a report.

  1. You must report your missing baggage within 12 hours of landing. 

  2. You can make a lost baggage claim with a Frontier Airlines agent at your arrival destination or Contact the Central Baggage Office at (801) 401-9000. You can also fill out a Frontier lost baggage online form on their delayed baggage page

  3. If your bags are lost file a lost baggage report online with Frontier Airlines lost and found.

For information on Frontier Airlines’ liability for delayed or lost baggage use the link here to download their contract for carriage in Spanish or English. 

Qatar Airways  

If you flew Qatar Airways and arrive at your destination without your baggage there are steps you can take to try to retrieve your delayed baggage. Additionally, if you incur any expense due to the baggage delay, Qatar Airways will compensate you. You will also be compensated for baggage that is considered lost. See Qatar Airways’ conditions of carriage for the applicable limits. 

  1. If you can, report the missing luggage at the Qatar Airways Baggage Service Desk. If not report delayed baggage online using the link here

  2. Using the same link above you can also check the status of your missing baggage. 

Virgin Atlantic 

Virgin Atlantic has information on its website that tells you what to do if your baggage doesn't arrive at the airport after your flight. Go here to see the information. We have also broken down the steps you can take to file a report with Virgin Atlantic if your baggage is delayed or lost.

  1. First, tell Virgin Atlantic baggage services agents at the airport if you can. There you will be able to complete a missing bag report AHL. The unique AHL reference number will allow you to track your delayed bag. 

  2. You can then monitor the status of your delayed bag using WorldTracer

  3. If your bag is not located within 21 days of your reporting its delay, Virgin Atlantic will declare it “irretrievably lost”. To make a claim for irretrievably lost checked baggage send Virgin Atlantic a completed claim form.

Where do I send my irretrievably lost claim form? 

U.S. residents may return completed claim forms and supporting documentation to the following address. 

Virgin Atlantic Airways

Customer Care

5787 Vineland Road

Suite 204, Orlando

Florida, 32819

Email: Baggage.Claims@fly.virgin.com 

For information on Virgin Atlantic’s liability for delayed or lost baggage review their conditions of carriage

AeroMexico 

As with other airlines, Aeromexico handles lost or delayed baggage incidents but you have to file a report either at the airport or online. Below or the steps to follow to file a report with Aeromexico if your bags are delayed or lost. 

  1. At the airport, you can file a report for missing baggage at the Aeromexico Baggage Claim Desk.

  2. You can also report missing baggage online. Go to the Baggage page on the AeroMexico website to file a report or track the status of your report. 

For information on AeroMexico’s liability for delayed or lost baggage review their contract of carriage

Up next: What do you do if an airline damaged you luggage?

Author

Claudia Diaz

Legal Educator @ People Clerk. Claudia is a lawyer and certified mediator in New York and Florida. She has participated in dozens of small claims mediations in New York City courts

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