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Airline Lost Your Luggage! Now What?

Updated on June 26, 2011

Your Bag Didn't Show Up...

So you waited and waited at the baggage carousel, watching as everyone else got their bag and went on their merry way. Now you're the last one there, and you don't have your bag! What do you do now?

Stay calm, don't panic. This page will tell you what to expect and how to get by in the meantime.

Find the Baggage Office and Make Your Report

The first thing you should do is find the baggage office for your airline. In most cases, it shouldn't be far from the luggage carousel. Sometimes you might even see a whole line of unhappy people just outside the door.

If you don't see anyone in the office, look for a sign. The airline representative may have just needed to leave for a few minutes.

The airline representative will ask a few questions. He (or she) will probably want to see your claim tags and ask for the following information:

  • Flight information: Your route and flight numbers
  • How many bags you're missing
  • Where you last saw your bag(s)
  • A description of your bag(s)
  • Your home address
  • Your temporary address (hotel, relative you're staying with, etc.)
  • How long you'll be staying
  • Phone numbers you can be reached at

Don't Leave The Airport Before Making A Report!

Unless you have to make it to a connecting flight, you should make a report about your bag as soon as possible. Don't leave the airport before then! The airline may give you a hard time if you try to make a claim about your missing luggage more than four hours later. They may not even accept your claim at all.

The Smart Traveler's Passport

The Smart Traveler's Passport: 399 Tips from Seasoned Travelers
The Smart Traveler's Passport: 399 Tips from Seasoned Travelers

A fairly recent book on travel (published in 2007), this book is full of tips such as various uses for Ziploc bags, avoiding long lines, how to pack, how to get the lowest prices, etc. Pretty good nuggets of information.


Don't Cuss Out the Baggage Agent

When I worked as a baggage agent, most people I encountered were very reasonable. However, I've also been used as a verbal punching bag, and I've seen other baggage agents similarly abused. Most airline employees learn to put up with a lot, but even so, a little courtesy can go a long way.

No one expects you to be cool as a cucumber when your bag is missing. It's OK to be frustrated; we expect that. However, please don't take your anger out on the baggage agent who's trying to help you. Even though he represents an airline that has inconvenienced you, he didn't personally lose your bag for you.

You want this person to be your ally. He can help you. If you cuss at him and say insulting things about his mother, he is not going to want to deal with you any more than he has to. You'll get better service if you cooperate with the baggage agent and give him all the necessary information.

Never physically or verbally threaten anyone at the airport. It's a good way to get arrested.

Have Your Claim Tags Ready

When you checked your bag, a computer generated a unique number for it. It's sort of like a license plate number for your car. That number is printed on the bag tag as well as on a claim tag. You should have your claim tag stuck to the sleeve of your boarding pass. Sometimes airline employees stick them on the back of the boarding pass itself.

This little tag is important. The airline representative needs the number and flight information from this tag so that he or she can create a report.

But if you don't have the claim tags, it's not the end of the world. This information can usually be retrieved on the computer. It's best if you can present your claim tags, though, since it results in a speedier transaction.

Don't Rip Off The Tags From Your Other Bags Yet!

If you checked more than one bag and received some of them, don't throw away those tags right away! The airline representative will more than likely want to see them.

Remember, each checked bag has its own unique ID now. You want the airline to be looking for the right one. The wrong bag number will just make the airline's job that much harder.

Be Prepared to Describe Your Bag

One of the most valuable bits of information the airline can have is an accurate description of what your bag looks like. You don't have to go into excruciating detail, but it's good if you can point out anything unusual. For instance, if you tied a yellow pompom to the bag, it's a good idea to include this in the report.

With a good description of the bag, the baggage agents will know exactly what to look for. Your bag has a much better chance of being returned to you quickly.

It's also not a bad idea to mention anything unusual you packed in your bag. A neon green shirt, for instance, a Stephen King novel, or a can of tuna fish. That way if your bag somehow loses its tag, the airline will have another way to identify it.

Have Addresses and Phone Numbers Ready

If you brought a print-out of information about the hotel you'll be staying at, now is a good time to get it out. The baggage agent will most likely ask for the address, phone number, and length of your stay so that he or she can get in touch with you once the bag is at the airport. In many cases, the airline will deliver the bag for you.

You should also give your home phone number and address, even if it seems irrelevant. In any case, it's very unwise to refuse to give this information; you never know what can happen. If for some reason your bag is delayed for many days, you won't have to worry about the airline sending your bag to the hotel once you get back home.

Ask for a Toiletry Kit

A lot of airlines provide toiletry kits for passengers who have had their checked luggage delayed. The airline I worked for didn't always keep them in stock, though. If it looks like you're going to be without your bag for a while and you didn't pack toiletries in a carry-on, ask the baggage agent if he can give you a toiletry kit.

Smart Packing

Smart Packing for Today's Traveler
Smart Packing for Today's Traveler

New security measures and rising costs of checked luggage means we all need to consider new packing strategies. This book has advice for packing for every occasion, how to travel light, which types of clothing is best for the kind of travel you're doing, etc.

It was published this year (2008), so it's up-to-date!


Why Was Your Bag Left Behind?

There are so many reasons why a bag can get left behind. Sometimes it's because a passenger checked in too late, which didn't leave the airline enough time to get the bag on the plane. A lot of times it's because of tight connections. Sometimes it's because a plane was so full, there wasn't enough room for all the bags. Sometimes it's due to weight and balance issues.

Sometimes it's because of a security-related delay. Sometimes it's because a bag fell off a conveyor belt or a baggage cart and wasn't discovered until later. Sometimes it's because the tag was torn off by machinery.

Sometimes it's because the baggage conveyor system breaks down. Sometimes it's because the bag wasn't cleared through customs like it should have been.

There are just a whole bunch of things that can go wrong! This is why I almost never check my bag if I can help it.

When Will You Get Your Bag Back?

In most cases, bags are found within 24 hours. But if you fly during the holidays or some other busy time of year, there's a real chance that your bag won't show up for a few days or more. Airplanes get filled up to the max, making it difficult if not impossible to put extra bags on other flights.

On rare occasions, bags are simply "lost" forever. However, this is unlikely to happen if you put your name and address inside your bag.

It's tempting to ask questions like, "When will my bag get here?" and, "Can you guarantee that my bag will be on the next flight?" However, it's important to realize that the baggage agent can promise nothing. Even if there's a message that says the bag will be put on the next flight, it's not a guarantee. In my experience, it's more like a weather forecast.

All About WorldTracer, The Baggage Tracing System

Most airlines use a worldwide database called WorldTracer that keeps records of lost and damaged luggage. Airlines use this to create missing bag reports, send baggage-related messages, and keep records of unidentified baggage.

When you make a claim for a missing bag, all your information goes into the WorldTracer system as a database entry. Each entry or file gets a unique number. You need this number to check on the status of your bag when you call the baggage office or look it up on the airline's website.

Your file contains information about you and your bag. It tells the airline where your bag needs to be delivered. It's also where airline employees make additional notes, such as special delivery information, the best times to reach you, details of subsequent conversations with you, etc.

Once a file has been created for your bag, the "tracing process" begins. The system tries to find matches for any given file. So if someone sends a message regarding your bag, it gets attached to your file. If a file for an unidentified bag being held at another airport matches the description of your bag, it's noted.

What's Happening To Your Bag Right Now?

Airline employees round up all the bags that weren't put on the flights they were supposed to go on. Unless they're rushed or understaffed, they usually take the time to enter information about the bag into the baggage tracing system.

If they know who the bag belongs to and where it needs to go, they'll typically forward a message to the bag's destination. This will let other baggage agents know when to expect the bag.

If the bag can't be put on a flight pretty soon, it's temporarily warehoused away with other bags.

What If Your Bag Is Never Found?

Only about 2% of all missing bags are lost forever. Not too bad, unless you happen to be one of those unlucky few! So when does the airline consider your bag to be irretrievably lost, and what sort of compensation can you expect?

It could take anywhere from 14 to 45 days before the airline considers your bag lost. That's when you can start discussing compensation for your losses.

You'll need to create an itemized list of all the things you packed in the lost bag, and you'll also want to provide receipts; it's a lot like making an insurance claim.

Unfortunately you will not get full compensation for everything. Most airlines have a list of things they simply won't cover, such as jewelry or cash. Also, even if you can provide receipts, they probably won't cover the full cost of your lost items. They factor deprecation into the total amount.

Feel free to share your comments and baggage horror stories here.

Have You Ever Had Your Bag Lost By An Airline?

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    • profile image

      Robert 3 years ago

      Yea I want to make one of those high altitude baollons but I live in Canada. What regulations should I use? FAA is only for America as far as i know and I couldn't find any information on high altitude balloon regulations in Canada. If Canada doesn't have any rules then what should I do?I could only find information about hot air baollons on their website. Would I only need to call them and say that im flying a balloon? Canada does not give very clear information on this subject.

    • profile image

      airportlostandfound 5 years ago

      Be sure to file a claim at

    • Nightowl John profile image

      Nightowl John 7 years ago

      Another of your very helpful lenses that I've come back to in order to Squid Angel bless.

    • Nightowl John profile image

      Nightowl John 7 years ago

      I've never had a bag lost, only "delayed" by about 12 hours. This is an excellent resource. I'm lensrolling it to my Unique Luggage lens. Thanks.

    • profile image

      abouttravel 10 years ago

      Great lens! I have lost a bag recently 1st January 08 - great way to start the New Year huh! They still haven't found it and the worse thing is that you have to provide receipts. Who ever keeps their receipts going back over some years for clothing?

    • profile image

      ShortSaleRealtor 10 years ago

      great lens 5 stars 4 u