All you need to know about what to do when the airline loses or damages your luggage.
It is very disconcerting to stand in front of the airport carousel watching the luggage roll by, but your leather, burnt orange suitcase is not one of them. You wait, and wait, and before long there are no more suitcases.
Face it, you arrived but your luggage did not.
Twice that burnt orange suitcase was lost for a while in the maze of airports. I was lucky. It was returned to me both times, albeit several days later.
I have learned a lot about what to do when traveling, and especially what to do when your luggage is lost, or damaged.
- Never pack something in a checked bag that you can’t live without. But if your bag does disappear into the vast unknown, you can claim up to $3500 in goods for a domestic flight and up to $1600 for an international flight. The Montreal Convention governs destruction, damage, and loss of checked baggage, and this treaty may, depending on the terms of the ticket you purchased with the airline, allow more or less compensation.Given these minimum liability limits, you should carry your valuables in your purse or carry on, not in your checked luggage. If you must place valuable items in checked luggage, then declare the value of the items at the time the baggage is checked, and pay any extra or additional fees required by the airline for the declaration of high value items.
- Check the back of your ticket for maximum claims. Airlines consider your ticket to be a “contract” of carriage, and the terms of this contract often set the maximum liability that an airline might face for lost, damaged, or delayed baggage. This contract of carriage may also set a deadline for giving notice of the damages or loss of your baggage.Additionally, check with your homeowners insurance and credit cards. Some homeowners or renters insurance will cover losses outside the home. Some credit cards offer flight insurance or supplemental baggage coverage which is often automatically applied when you buy a ticket.
- Pack some extra clothing in your carry on, or if traveling with a companion, put a change of clothing in their suitcase, and let them put an outfit in yours. That way, you will have some clothes other than those on your back if your suitcase does not make it.
- Keep track of your baggage claim information. When you check in, you get the documentation. You will need that information to give to the airline if your luggage is lost, or damaged.
- If your luggage does not turn up at baggage claim, notify the carrier immediately – in writing! There will be a baggage office at the airport where you can make a claim. The airline will have a form for you to fill out describing the luggage, where you checked your luggage, and other questions designed to help locate the lost luggage. It helps if you have a picture of the bag to give to the airline carrier. I now take a picture of my suitcase just before I leave the house for the airport, and carry that picture in my purse. Once you make the claim, ask for a copy of that report, and be sure to get a phone number where you can follow up (read that as pester) the airlines about the luggage. Note, the “contract” that you enter when you purchase your ticket will require a written notice of any damage or loss of your luggage. Do not assume that a verbal report is enough. Put your claim in writing!
- If you do have your luggage, but it was damaged, the airline should pay for repairs. Same thing for anything damaged inside the luggage. You may have to prove the goods were not damaged when you packed them. Time is off the essence for damaged luggage or items, so notify the carrier right away – before you leave the airport if possible. In the case of an international flight, the Montreal Convention requires notice of damage to luggage within seven days of receipt. Airlines typically establish similar limits in the “contract” formed by your ticket for domestic flights.
- It is the airlines responsibility to get the luggage to you once they find it. Don’t hang around the airport waiting. Go on about your business, but be sure to leave a phone number where you can be reached once the luggage is found. Do not assume the luggage will be delivered to you for free. Ask the airline first and negotiate if need be.
- Buy durable luggage. You don’t have to have purchase the most expensive luggage, and in fact, that is not a good idea, as it might become a target for thieves. Good, sturdy, reasonably priced luggage is the way to go – and colorful luggage is not a bad choice.
- Get reimbursed for your baggage fee, if the luggage is lost. It does not hurt to ask.
Be prepared to negotiate for the lost luggage and its contents. Make a list of everything in that luggage before you leave, so that you will know exactly what you have lost. You may not get full price for lost items, and the airline may want documentation of the cost of certain items. But documentation of the items in your luggage will separate your claim from all others and will help get your claim resolved expediently.
- Be patient. It can take airlines a few hours or up to a month to locate your luggage. In the case of international carriage, the Montreal Convention entitles you to compensation if your luggage is delayed by more than twenty-one days. Note that in many cases, it may take up to 3 months to get a reimbursement for lost or damaged goods. Many airlines like to offer travel vouchers (coupons towards future travel) rather than a cash settlement. Sometimes you may be offered travel vouchers worth more than the loss. Be sure that those vouchers do not have restrictions or blackout dates before you accept them.
- If you checked sports equipment, most airlines will cover the cost of the rentals. But you will have to have proof of the rental.
- Airlines may offer you a courtesy bag to tide you over while they hunt for your luggage. You may have to ask for it, if it is not offered when you make your claim. I have been offered two. They are dismal. One had a comb, toothbrush, toothpaste and a tee shirt. The other had a tee shirt, toothbrush, deodorant, and a brush. Not a great help when you are on a two week vacation with no luggage.
- If you have to purchase anything before your luggage is found and returned, keep the receipts and make a reimbursement claim when you return home.
As for that burnt orange suitcase, it is no longer my problem. After being lost twice, I was not ready to risk traveling with it again. I gave it to Goodwill.
The Stilwell Law Firm handles all kinds of aviation claims. Call the Stilwell Law Firm for your free consultations today: 713-931-1111 or 844-931-3111.