Question: My checked bags didn’t arrive at the airport with me. What’s the airline’s responsibility when there’s a one-day delay in receiving your luggage?
Answer: Nothing tests your patience more than waiting at the luggage carousel for your luggage to come up. Except maybe when your bags are a no-show.
Most travelers are unprepared and don’t know what to do. And good advice and information is difficult to find.
First, let’s get one thing out of the way: Whenever possible you should avoid checking luggage. The exceptions are when you’re carrying oversized items or items you aren’t allowed to carry on and might be confiscated by the TSA. But on how many trips would you need firearms, explosives, flammables or knives?
I’ll assume that you had another really great reason to check your bag.
But it didn’t arrive with you — now what?
Here are seven steps that can help you recover your property and get compensation for the necessities you purchase because your bag went missing.
1. File a claim
The most important thing you can do when your bag is delayed or potentially lost is to file a claim as quickly as possible.
If you’re traveling internationally you’ll have 21 days to file (after that, if not returned, the bag will be officially claimed lost), but if traveling domestically you may have as few as four hours to notify the airline if you want compensation for the delay.
Make sure you keep a copy of the claim, no matter how long you have to wait for it.
2. File with your last carrier
If you have been transported by multiple carriers, it’s the airline that operated your final leg that should address this issue. Don’t let them pass you off to one of the other airline “partners.”
3. Determine the allowance
The USA.gov site suggests immediately asking about compensation. This may come in two forms: a cash allowance given at the time of your complaint or in the form of reimbursement. The upper limit for domestic baggage “lost, delayed or damaged” is about $3,300; you should expect less.
Make sure both you and the airline agree on where your luggage should be delivered if found and who will pay that expense. Note the name of the employee when you negotiate.
Also, check that the items you purchase are considered necessities by your carrier and that you keep all your receipts. Your airline should be able to provide you with a list of reimbursable items.
4. Check with your insurance carrier
If you have travel insurance, going through your provider may net you a better per diem. You’ll still need to file paperwork of your loss or delay to the airline and submit it with your insurance claim.
5. Don’t take no for an answer
If the gate agent or airline representative is giving you a hard time, you might want to reference this Department of Transportation site and the Montreal Convention treaty.
There should also be information on the airline’s website. Use “delayed baggage compensation” and the name of your airline in your preferred search engine to pull up this information.
6. Contact the authorities
When all else fails, you can still contact the Department of Transportation Air Consumer Protection and Enforcement department with a complaint.
Another option is to go to small claims court. Make sure you have receipts, ticket stubs and a copy of the report you filed with the airline.
7. Follow up with airline
There really isn’t any allowance for the frustration or inconvenience when your bags go missing, though some carriers may offer you a voucher to be used on a future flight within the next 12 to 24 months if you follow up and share your experience with them.
If all else fails, and you feel as though you’ve been thoroughly ignored, you can contact consumer advocate Christopher Elliott. He’s been mediating disputes like this for many years and can give you good advice on how to contact the airline and reach its higher-level customer service representative. (Disclosure: I’m the mother of his children.)