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My baggage has been lost or delayed: What are my rights?

December 3, 2019

It's the horror holiday scenario that no one wants to experience: you're standing at the baggage carousel waiting and waiting, and waiting, and waiting. Piece by piece, the other passengers pick up their bags and head off to enjoy their holiday. As the last item is taken, the carousel shuts off - yours never turns up and you're left with a dilemma before your trip has even started.

Read our guide and find out what to do if your bags don't make it to the same destination as you.

What should I do if my luggage has been lost or left behind at the departure airport?

If your luggage fails to turn up when you arrive at your destination airport, head to the airline’s help desk where you’ll be asked to fill out a Property Irregularity Report (PIR). It will ask for details of what your bag looks like and where you’re staying.

Most bags are traced and returned to their owners within a couple of days. Should your luggage not be found, it still won’t be classed as “lost” until it’s been missing for 21 days – until then, it’s “delayed”.

If your bag is finally declared lost, you can make a claim for compensation from the airline (for checked-in luggage only).

Am I entitled to anything by way of compensation?

While you’re waiting for your bag to show up, some airlines will offer to cover the cost of essentials such as toiletries and a change of clothes. Be sure to find out what the policy is for your airline, as they vary. And ensure you keep receipts for any claim.

If your bag is ultimately declared lost, the airline will be liable to pay out for the luggage under the Montreal Convention, which gives guidance on the amount to be paid – although it’s a set amount, it can vary a little by airline. For example, British Airways is liable for destruction, loss or damage to baggage up to approximately £1,000.

Be aware, though, when making your claim, that your airline may ask to see a list of what was in the bag, as well as receipts to prove you own the items. The airline is also likely to deduct an amount for wear and tear, so you may not get as much compensation as you had hoped.

If your travel insurance policy allows you to claim for an amount that’s greater than what the airline gives you, you would be able to claim for the difference from them, minus any excess.

10 tips to prevent baggage disasters

Losing your bag for a few days or hours is bad enough – let alone permanently. What can be done to prevent this and other luggage accidents in the first place?

1. Take hand-luggage only

If you can pack lightly and travel with hand luggage only, you won’t need to worry about checking in any bags at the airport, reducing the chances of you losing them. Just make sure there’s nothing in your bag that you won’t be allowed to take on board – read more about this in Clare Walsh’s blog 8 things you can’t take in your hand luggage.

2. Don’t over-fill your bag

Avoid over-filling your bag as this can cause zips to break and your bag to burst open – and no one wants the embarrassment of their underwear falling out everywhere! What’s more, stuffing your bag to the brim means it could end up being over the airline’s weight limit and you’ll have to pay extra. The same applies to the size of your bag so make sure it fits within the airline’s limits – both for checked-in and carry-on luggage.

3. Keep valuables with you

Don’t leave anything valuable in the bag you’re checking in – always keep items such as jewellery, your mobile phone and camera in your carry-on bag. It’s worth checking your travel insurance policy to ensure you are following its advice about valuables, to reduce the chances of you being turned down should you have to make a claim.

Travel documents and medicines should also be in your hand-luggage.

4. Put your name and phone number on your baggage

Be sure to write your name and phone number on a luggage tag and attach it to each bag you have. And because tags can easily get ripped off, it’s well worth adding further identification inside the bag itself.

Furthermore, at check-in ensure the computerised tag shows your correct name, flight number and also your arrival airport before the airline representative sends it down the luggage chute. And keep that baggage receipt safe. You’ll need it to make a claim if your bag doesn’t show.

5. Make your checked-in luggage identifiable

Make sure your bag is instantly recognisable to you. You could use bright ribbon or stickers for example – let your imagination run wild! This will help to ensure no one else picks up your bag from the airport carousel when you arrive at your destination. What’s more, should you lose your bag at any point, it could make it easier to find. Taking a photo of your bag on your mobile phone will also help with identification.

6. Draw up a list of your luggage contents

It’s worth making a list of everything that’s in your luggage so that if the worst happened, you’d be able to say what was inside. The list will also be useful should you have to claim for compensation from your airline (you can read more about this later).

7. Lock up your luggage

Having a lock on your luggage can help to reduce the chances of it being stolen simply because thieves are more likely to opt for a bag that’s an easier target. However, when travelling to or via the USA your lock needs to be compliant with Transportation Security Administration (TSA) policies or you risk having your bags broken into by security staff. Locks approved by the TSA have universal master keys that security staff can use to open your bag should they need to.

8. Give yourself plenty of time

When heading to the airport, give yourself plenty of time to get there so that you don’t end up rushing to check in minutes before your flight leaves. Even if you manage to make the plane on time, your luggage might not. Similarly, make sure you have plenty of time between connections. If in any doubt, you can check with the boarding staff at the gate to see if your bag has made it on board when connecting.

9. Take out travel insurance

In the event that you do lose your luggage, whether it’s during your journey or later on in the holiday, you’ll want to ensure that you won’t have to pay a fortune to replace all the items you’ve lost. So make sure you take out a travel insurance policy before you go – and that it has adequate baggage cover (you’ll usually be covered for around £1,500 or £2,000).

Check whether there is a single item limit on your policy as this is the maximum amount an insurer will pay out for a single item, regardless of the total amount of cover you have. Single item limits vary from policy to policy but are typically around £300, though you may be able to pay to increase this.

Bear in mind that relying on your home contents insurance isn’t a good idea as often it won’t cover you for taking items overseas. What’s more, if you should make a claim on your home insurance, your premiums will increase the following year.

10. Pack your toiletries with care

A baggage disaster doesn’t have to involve losing your luggage. It could involve arriving at your chosen destination to discover your shampoo has leaked all over your clothes – not a great start to a holiday in anyone’s book. A good way to avoid this is to put your toiletries in a clear plastic bag – a freezer bag or sandwich bag will do the trick – just make sure it’s tightly closed. That way, should anything spill out, it’ll be much easier to clear up. For double the protection, put your clothes into plastic bags too.

Luggage 101:

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