This sounds like a nightmare to most travelers: your plane has landed, you went through immigration and nor you’re standing at the luggage belt. And while all other passengers from your flight are already on their way through customs it suddenly downs on you: your suitcase could be gone.
The first rule in such a situation is to keep calm. In most cases, the airline will have to compensate you. Also, your suitcase is rarely lost forever. About 95% of the time, your luggage will arrive at the hotel or your home after a couple of hours. A few days should be the absolute maximum here.
But before you go ahead and turn your hotel’s bathroom sink into a washing machine or use your fingers to brush your teeth, let us walk you through your rights in case of lost or delayed baggage. You might find out that it’s not that big of a problem after all.
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Report Your Luggage Missing
If you’ve been waiting until the luggage belt stops and no more suitcases arrive, it’s probably time to take the next step. In your case, this will be reporting to the so-called baggage tracking service.
Typically you should find the counter somewhere in the area where you’ve been waiting for your bags to arrive. Major airlines, especially those using the airport as a hub, will run their own service for lost or delayed baggage. The airline’s logo will indicate the counter you should proceed to. But in many cases, there will be a Handling Agent. He or she is employed by the company responsible for all bags going to or through the airport.
Under no circumstances should you leave the secured baggage area! Even though – from a legal point of view – it will suffice to claim your lost bags until 21 days after your arrival, things can become very tricky. You might find yourself in a situation that forces you to prove you didn’t actually lose your luggage in the parking lot after leaving the airport.
The most important part of the evidence is the sticker that check-in agents usually stick on the back of your boarding pass. It contains all the necessary information, such as flight number, airline name, etc. And it also acts as evidence that you checked in your bags in the first place. So it is essential to keep your boarding pass with you at least until you’ve received your luggage.
The agent at the lost baggage desk will then fill out a Property Irregularity Report (short: PIR). Always ask for a copy of this report! You can now use your File Reference to pull up your case on WorldTracer and receive updates on your lost luggage. Or change the address you’d like your bags delivered to.
Replace Your Belongings
Now that you’ve filled out all the paperwork and reported your luggage missing, the next problem has to be dealt with: where can you get clothing and toiletries? Your hotel will often provide the latter – that is, if you’re staying in one. But you will definitely need something fresh to put on.
As already mentioned, the airline is usually liable for expenses that you run into due to lost or delayed luggage. However, how this issue is handled varies from airline to airline. The class of travel can also influence how accommodating the airline is.
Some airlines will give you a basic set of hygiene items when you file your loss report. Some of these “overnight kits” even include underwear. Especially for flights outside of Europe, you might receive vouchers. Or maybe a prepaid credit card topped up with a certain amount of money to buy the essentials. If this is not enough, you will have to make replacement purchases at your own expense. And you will charge the airline for them later.
Sometime, the staff at the airport will tell you that you are entitled to a fixed amount for a specific delay time. But those numbers are very often just some ballpark figures. And don’t reflect what the airlines actually has to give you. So in case, you’re being told that you can only spend, e.g., €15 per 24 hours, you better assume that this is not true.
However, if the airlines has lost your luggage or it is delayed, it might not be the best idea to go out and buy a brand new Hugo Boss suit and a Rimova suitcase. The term that is most important here is “appropriacy”. Meaning that you should only buy items you really need. That way you’ll avoid unpleasant surprises when trying to get your money back from the airline.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t buy a new suit, for example. If you’re in town for a business meeting and you need to be dressed accordingly, this will make a good point in an argument. Also, you won’t need to limit yourself to low-budget stuff. You can also buy more expensive brands. Just keep everything within a reasonable limit.
By the way: if the airline loses your suitcase on the return flight and you only have to drive home from the airport afterward, you won’t get any compensation for possible purchases. One can assume that you have all the necessary items in your house.
Reimbursement of Costs
The legal situation is pretty clear once it comes to costs that you will be reimbursed for. Well, at least it should be. The basic principle is that the expenses for the new purchase must be refunded by the airline. This applies up to an amount of approximately €1,400 (or 1,131 Special Drawing Rights as of December 23rd, 2019). Source: Montreal Convention Article 22 Limits of liability in relation to delay, baggage and cargo
However, this refers to a situation in which the airline can no longer find your luggage. If the airline can deliver your luggage at a later point in time, you might find yourself in a situation where you will not be compensated for the whole amount you already spent. Some airlines won’t come up for the full price. It can happen that you’ll receive 100% back for newly purchased hygiene articles are replaced but only 50% for clothes.
Often, the airlines will avoid clear statements on their approach to this topic. So, if you have already been one of the lucky travelers affected by lost or delayed luggage, we’d love to hear from you in the comment section!
In any case, you should keep every invoice and receipt you received for your replacement purchases. Only with these will it be possible to get your money back. Or at least a part of it.
If the worst-case scenario really occurs and the airline can’t find your luggage at all, you are entitled to a replacement up to the full amount of 1,131 Special Drawing Rights. You will receive a form a few days or even weeks after the loss of your luggage. On this form, you will state what exactly you had packed in your suitcases. The airline then checks how much damage you have suffered, and you should be compensated within 30 days.
Legal Basis: The Montreal Convention
Since 2004, the “Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules for International Carriage by Air”, or “Montreal Convention” for short, manages compensations that are due. In addition to payment for delayed or lost baggage, it also regulates all other cases in which passengers may have claims against their contractual partners. Anyone interested in the entire body of rules and regulations will find what they are looking for on this website.
Article 17 of the Convention is of particular interest since it addresses the topic of lost baggage. Among other things, it reads as follows:
The carrier is liable for damage sustained in case of destruction or loss of, or of damage to, checked baggage […]Article 17 Montreal Convention
This part of the agreement forms the legal basis for the compensation to which you are entitled in case of lost luggage.
In the case of delayed baggage, Article 19, Delay, shall apply:
The carrier is liable for damage occasioned by delay in the carriage by air of passengers, baggage or cargo.Article 19, Montreal Convention
So here, too, it is regulated that if your luggage arrival is delayed, you can make claims.
It is essential to know that this agreement has been signed by all EU states, the USA, and Japan. Moreover, the deal is binding on all European airlines, regardless of the route they take.
Loss of Luggage on Package Tours
In principle, you have the same rights as a passenger on a package tour as you do as a regular passenger on most flights. However, there are two differences:
- Your contracting party: If you have booked your trip through a tour operator, as is usually the case, this is your first point of contact if your luggage gets lost. The tour operator will presumably retrieve the lost luggage from the airline afterward, but you don’t have to deal with it.
- Additional compensation: In addition to the expenses for replacement purchases or even the full rate for lost luggage, you, as a traveler on a package tour, may be entitled to additional compensation. Up to 30% for each day on which your luggage is not available to you. The argument here is that it reduces the value of the trip.
In any case, you should immediately notify the tour operator in writing as soon as it is clear that your luggage is not at your disposal. If you have difficulties in claiming compensation from the tour operator after returning from your holiday, it is best to contact a consumer advice center or, if necessary, a lawyer.
The vague answer: It depends. As a rule, luggage insurance is redundant. The airline is liable for lost luggage anyway, and most insurers also require that you first claim your damage from the airline. But only up to the maximum limit. If you really want to bring expensive items in your suitcase, it may be worth taking out additional insurance. First, however, you should check whether you already have insurance, for example, by using a credit card.
Usually, your luggage will be delivered to your accommodation or your home. The airlines always try to limit the damage at least a little bit this way. However, the carriers are not obliged to do so. It is a voluntary service. If the airline refuses to deliver your luggage to you, you are entitled to reimbursement of the travel costs incurred if you have to return to the airport.
The airline usually has up to three weeks to find your luggage. After 21 days, your baggage is considered lost. In practice, however, the airlines sometimes assume that your luggage will not be found again at an earlier pint in time. That’s why some airlines send out “lost baggage” forms after a few days.
Yes, but the situation with damaged luggage is not as clear as with delayed or lost luggage. Was the suitcase already damaged before? Did you stuff too much stuff into your bag? These are just two of the questions that could be difficult to answer. Probably only pictures of the suitcase, which you take just before you give it up, would be conclusive. And in general: the airline does not pay for small damages like scratches and dents.
The best thing is, of course, not to lose your luggage in the first place. And as a traveler, you can actively influence the probability of this happening. At least theoretically. The chance of arriving at your destination without your luggage on a direct flight is almost zero. A trip where you have to change planes three times and maybe even at the world’s major hubs will naturally increase the risk.
If you can’t choose whether you want to fly non-stop or not, you can at least minimize the damage by packing the right things. Ideally, no irreplaceable items will land in your suitcase. Only those that you can replace using the maximum amount of compensation. And if you have space in your hand luggage, it certainly doesn’t hurt to carry some clothes, fresh underwear and toiletries with you.