What to Do if Your Luggage is Lost

Not sure what to do if your luggage is lost? We do! If an airline loses or damages your luggage, here's what you need to know.
What to Do if Your Luggage is Lost

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Losing your luggage doesn’t seem like a big deal until it actually happens.

Sometimes it’s a minor inconvenience—your checked suitcase ends up at the wrong luggage carousel, or it’s delayed by an hour or two. Other times it ends up on the wrong flight entirely and shows up when your vacation is just about over.

Depending on the airline, losing your luggage can be a frustrating and stressful ordeal. Here’s what you can do when it happens.

What Happens if an Airline Loses My Luggage?

If an airline loses your luggage, in most circumstances they’re legally obligated to reimburse you for expenses incurred because of delays or the loss of your checked baggage.

But don’t panic right away: your luggage might just be delayed. It’s actually incredibly rare for an airline to lose your baggage. In fact, in the U.S., airlines only lose around two bags out of every thousand.

As soon as you realize your bag isn’t on the carousel, head straight to the airline’s lost baggage counter, or speak to any representative that’s nearby.

You can’t leave the airport without reporting your missing baggage. Some airlines require that you file your missing luggage report within a few hours. Be sure you have your accommodation’s address handy so that the airline can contact you.

Your luggage is technically considered delayed until a certain amount of time passes. For example, some airlines will not consider your luggage missing until three weeks have passed.

When your luggage is found, the airline will bring it to you (usually at no extra cost). You likely won’t have to return to the airport to collect it. This can be more of a hassle if you’re moving to a new location every few days, which is why it’s important to get the tracking info for your baggage (we’ll talk about this in the next section).

Keep all of your receipts so that the airline can reimburse you for any expenses you rack up for the lost/delayed baggage. Remember, they’ll only reimburse you for the necessities: you won’t get away with a luxury shopping spree! Sometimes the airline will hand out overnight hygiene kits at the lost luggage counter to tide you over.

If your luggage is definitely lost and not delayed, you should get financial reimbursement, and it can be up to $3,500. Consult with the airline, and as always, check your travel insurance.

How Do I Track Lost Luggage?

Your airline will give you the details on how to trace your delayed or missing luggage, likely by using their website or a third-party tracking system such as WorldTracer.

Before leaving the airport, be sure to get your agent’s name, as well as any tracking numbers or phone numbers you might need. The whole process is not a pleasant one, but it’s important to know what to do so you don’t lose any money.

What Should I Do If My Luggage is Delayed?

If you think your luggage is delayed, again, head straight to the lost-luggage counter or speak to an airline representative. Don’t leave the airport without doing so.

Keep all of your receipts in case you need to make necessary purchases to replace the items in your lost luggage, like hygienic items or clothing. There should be no questions asked about your receipts for toothpaste, a toothbrush, soap, deodorant, etc.

Keep checking the status of your bag (especially if there’s an online tracking system). Put the pressure on the airline to recover your belongings.

Finally, if your lost luggage is causing you significant amounts of stress, you might want to consider online therapy from your phone. Click here for more information about the different types of psychotherapy available.

What Should I Do If My Luggage is Damaged?

Immediately head to the luggage counter if you notice that your bag is damaged. Keep in mind that airlines won’t cover simple bumps or regular wear-and-tear.

Airlines also usually won’t cover any broken contents in your bag unless the items have been wrapped in specific packaging.

And if you’re getting repairs done to your luggage, make sure you hold onto your receipts. Reimbursement will depend on what vendor you use—ask the airline representative for some guidance on companies considered to be trusted vendors.

What Should I Do if My Luggage is Stolen?

Go straight to the lost-luggage counter with your boarding pass and baggage tags. Airlines scan your baggage tag to keep track of it, so it’s unlikely that your luggage will get stolen.

And if your luggage gets stolen after you’ve left the baggage claims area, unfortunately, it’s no longer the airline’s problem. You’ll have to file a police report.

How Can I Prevent Losing My Luggage?

Simplify the process: make sure your luggage is personalized, travel carry-on only, and keep your flight route as direct as possible.

Travel carry-on only – I know this isn’t always possible, but whenever possible, I highly recommend traveling carry-on only. You can find so many different types of carry-on luggage these days to hold an impressive amount of stuff to keep you going for weeks. Plus it’s just so freeing to not have to lug around heavy suitcases and bags!

Make sure your luggage is personalized – The default for suitcases seems to be all black or grey, which makes it hard to identify your belongings on the luggage carousel. Use colorful luggage, or attach something bright and noticeable to the handle. Keep luggage tags attached with your name, address, and phone number.

Fly more direct routes – Obviously, the fewer flights you need to take to get to your destination, the less likely you’ll lose your baggage. It might not always be possible but if you’re traveling with expensive gear and you’d like to minimize the risk of losing your stuff, fly direct whenever you can.


If reading all of this made you break out in a nervous sweat, I entirely understand. Lost or delayed baggage is never a fun experience, and for some people, it can cause significant stress. Especially if you’re carrying important things that mean a lot to you. Just remember, it rarely happens! And knowing how to handle it beforehand will help save you a lot of heartache.

Candice Walsh
Candice Walsh
Candice Walsh is a travel writer, blogger, and destination marketing specialist living on the North Atlantic in Newfoundland & Labrador, Canada. She has spent over 10 years traveling the world and is happiest when she's on the Mediterranean with a glass of wine in hand.

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