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Tips for Lost Luggage


Nobody likes dealing with lost luggage. Arriving at your destination, tired and cranky from hours spent in your cramped seat with recycled air, huddled with the masses at the baggage carousel just waiting for the sight of your suitcase. One by one everybody else claims their belonging and shuffles off, until you’ve left standing alone thinking “Why me?”

Even though what happens next after your suitcase has been checked and disappears into the dark abyss of the luggage belt is entirely out of your control there are still some things you can do to mitigate the disaster of lost luggage.

It feels like delayed and lost baggage has become a bigger issue in recent years. In 2022 baggage mishandling rates last year hit the highest in a decade globally as the airline industry scrambled to recover after the pandemic. Some 26 million pieces of luggage were lost, delayed or damaged in 2022 – nearly eight bags in every 1,000.

And while it’s starting to get better, it’s still good to have a few tips and tricks up your sleeve.

Before You Fly

Use AirTags

While AirTags or alternatives like Tile Pro or Samsung SmartTag won’t prevent your bag from going missing, it’ll give you some peace of mind about knowing just where it is. Some of the stress of delayed or missing luggage is the unknown. Did it make the connection? Did it go on another plane? Did someone steal it?

When my suitcase didn’t show up on the baggage carousel after my roundabout flight to Korea in 2012 I had no idea where it had gotten sidelined. Was it my short connection in Munich? Or the chaotic retagging in Istanbul? Would I ever see it again? With a tracking device at least I would know where the bag was and could see it making its way across the world to me.

Have a sturdy luggage tag

Another thing I love about my (now discontinued) Briggs and Riley suitcase is that there’s a built-in luggage tag that tucks away so it can’t get snagged on any machinery and ripped off.

You want to have a sturdy ID tag because it can be harder for an airline to reunite an unlabelled suitcase with its owner. I know that many airlines also add barcode stickers to checked luggage but I wouldn’t trust that as my only way to identify my bag.

Consider adding a second label inside your suitcase. Include your home contact information as well as a way to reach you on the road.

Pack a change of clothes in a carry-on

After that 2012 delayed baggage incident in Korea (did you know it’s really hard to find clothes in a size 8 or larger in Seoul?) I started packing at least one full change of clothes in my carry-on bag.

This really came in handy not long ago when I was travelling to Puerto Rico. I got there on time while my bag decided to hang out in Montreal for another day and then take its sweet time getting back to me. Thankfully, I had packed two full outfits that were suitable for my first few day’s activities.

It’s also come in handy when I’ve had delayed flights that resulted in overnight layovers where my bag was checked through to my final destination so it stayed with the airline.

Pack a few essentials in your travel partner’s bag

Along a similar train of thought, you can also pack a few outfits in your travel companion’s suitcase and they can pack a few of theirs in yours. That way if one bag goes missing, at least you have something.

That idea came to me after my parents went on their first international trip to Cuba in 2007 and my dad’s suitcase, like mine would years later, decided to hang out in Montreal. He arrived with just the clothes on his back. Thankfully they were there with a large group of friends so dad was able to borrow bits and pieces to get him through the week but I encouraged them to split their suitcases whenever they flew after that.

Avoid Short Connections

It’s stressful enough having to run to make sure your person makes it to the gate on time to catch a flight with a short connection time, you don’t want to have to worry about your luggage too. I’m pretty sure that’s exactly why my luggage was delayed when I went to Korea. I only had a 40 minute connection in Munich and while I made it, I doubt the baggage handlers were in as big a rush as I was.

At the Airport

Check in early

If you leave it until the very last minute to check your suitcase, you’re inviting an opportunity for it to not make the flight. While the inner workings of airports are set up so that all bags checked in before the cut off time make it to the right plane, why chance it? If you’re last to check in, it would only take one hiccup behind the scenes for your suitcase to be left behind.

Take photos of your bags

My Briggs and Riley suitcase has a metal tag with a serial number on it and I always make sure to snap a photo of it and then a few more of the bag itself in case they’re of use if I need to file a missing bag report. Having a recent photo on my phone can help me remember any details the airline might need to identify my bag.

Take photos of your baggage claim tickets

It’s so easy to lose bits of paper with everything going on at airports so I always make sure to snap a pic of my baggage claim tickets after checking in. That way, if the bag doesn’t show up, and I’ve misplaced the ticket, I have a record of the numbers.

When Your Bag Doesn’t Show Up

When that dreaded moment arrives and you’re standing alone at an empty luggage carousel watching all of your plane-mates departing with their bags, don’t panic. The very first thing you’re going to do is find an airline rep and file a report.

They’ll ask for your flight details, contact info, description of your bag, ask to see your baggage claim tickets, etc. While that’s happening you can also have a peek at your AirTag and see where your bag is located. That may also help with the report.

Once your bag has arrived at your destination airport it’ll be sent out with a driver to be delivered to your accommodations.

If you need to purchase any essentials like clothing or toiletries while you wait for your bag to arrive there’s a good chance either the airline will reimburse you for those costs. You’ll also want to check out any benefits of the credit card you booked the trip on. I know that my American Express Gold Rewards card will cover up to $500 of expenses due to delayed baggage.

After You’ve Been Reunited

  • Verify the contents right away
  • Check for any lost or damaged items and report to the airport right away

Compensation for Lost Luggage

If you’ve had a missing or delayed bag, you’re going to want to familiarize yourself with the airline’s policies on lost luggage. Many airlines will reimburse you but only up to a certain limit.

Air Canada: In respect to destruction, loss, delay, or damage to baggage, a carrier’s liability is limited to 1,288 SDR (Special Drawing Rights) per passenger.

What the heck is an SDR? This term means nothing to most people but it’s a value that’s based on a basket of five currencies—the US dollar, the euro, the Chinese renminbi, the Japanese yen, and the British pound sterling. You can visit the IMF website to get the current value but as of today, 1288 SDR is about $1900 USD. So if the replacement value of your suitcase and its contents is more than that you’re going to want to have extra insurance on it.

There’s also typically a fairly short window for you to submit a claim. You’ll generally have three weeks or less to make a claim. If your bag is truly lost you’ll also want to check with your credit card and your travel insurance to see what your options are for compensation.

How Does Luggage Get Lost?

Luggage can get lost during air travel due to various reasons, and it’s often a result of a combination of factors in the complex process of handling thousands of bags at airports. Here are some common reasons why luggage may get lost:

  • Transfer Errors: When passengers have connecting flights, their luggage needs to be transferred between different planes and possibly different airlines. Miscommunication or errors in the transfer process can lead to luggage being sent to the wrong destination.
  • Human Error: Baggage handlers manually move and load luggage onto planes, and mistakes can occur. Misreading luggage tags, placing bags on the wrong conveyor belts, or overlooking items during security checks can contribute to luggage being lost.
  • Technology Failures: Despite advancements in tracking technology, baggage systems can still experience technical glitches. Malfunctions in baggage handling systems or issues with the barcode scanning process can lead to luggage being misrouted or lost.
  • Short Layovers: In situations where there are tight layovers, especially if there are delays in the arrival of the connecting flight, there may not be enough time to transfer luggage between planes.
  • Airport Size and Layout: Large airports with complex layouts can pose challenges in ensuring that luggage reaches the correct destination. Baggage may need to be transported long distances between terminals, increasing the likelihood of errors.
  • Unforeseen Circumstances: Unexpected events such as weather disruptions, strikes, or other operational issues can lead to changes in flight schedules, which may result in luggage being mishandled.
  • Lack of Identification: In cases where luggage lacks proper identification, either due to missing or damaged tags, it becomes difficult for airlines to trace and reunite the bag with its owner.
  • Theft: While relatively rare, theft can contribute to lost luggage. Unscrupulous individuals, including airport or airline staff, may intentionally take luggage, especially if it is unattended or improperly secured.
  • Security Issues: If security concerns arise during the screening process, luggage may be held back or inspected more thoroughly, leading to delays or potential misplacement.

What Happens to Lost Luggage?

What happens to those lost bags? Airlines will keep them for a few days before they get shipped to a central warehouse. If they haven’t been claimed after 90 days they’re donated or auctioned off.

Want to know more about your passenger rights when it comes to delayed and lost baggage? If you’re Canadian you can check out the Canadian Transportation Agency’s site for passenger rights.

While the frustration of lost baggage is an all too common travel woe, if you follow my advice, you’ll set yourself up for travel success. Armed with proactive measures such as tracking technology, sturdy luggage tags, and strategic packing, you can mitigate potential disaster. From the early stages of travel planning to the unfortunate moment when a bag doesn’t appear at the carousel, understanding compensation policies, airport procedures, and the fate of unclaimed bags provides a roadmap for traversing the turbulent terrain of lost luggage with resilience and a dash of optimism. Safe travels!

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