For many years people have felt relatively secure about checking their baggage for a flight. But the chaos of air travel this summer has thrown cold water on that confidence.
"During the pandemic, many airports and airlines have been forced to downsize in response to the restrictions facing the world," Alex Miller, Founder and CEO of Improved points, told HuffPost. "Now that these restrictions have been lifted, people are resuming travel, leaving airports and airlines to struggle to cope with the influx of passengers. This combination of increased demand, with a shortage of staff, as the recruitment could not offset the increase, leaving many travelers arriving at their destination without their luggage.
The result is countless airport photos showing mounds of lost baggage and many frustrated travellers.
Of course, the obvious solution is to pack less and avoid checking a bag, but sometimes that’s just not an option. So what if you find yourself in this situation and find yourself separated from your bag? Below, experts share their tips.
File a missing bag report.
"The first thing to do if you notice that your luggage hasn’t arrived at its destination is to report it immediately," Miller advised. "The airline you traveled with is responsible for ensuring that your baggage is delivered to your destination."
Go to the airline’s baggage counter and ask the customer service representative to see if they can locate your baggage. It may have been delayed but will arrive on a later flight. Or maybe he arrived early and was placed in a separate area.
You might also be able to determine the location of your bag on the airline’s mobile app. If the bag is still missing, however, it’s time to file a claim.
"Once you have notified airline staff of your missing baggage, it is essential that you file a missing baggage report," Miller added. "You must provide a detailed description of your baggage, including the size, color and material of the bag. The report must also include your current address and contact details so that the airline can contact you. You must also keep a note any reference or tracking number you receive from the lost baggage office.
Find out what compensation is due to you.
“Filing a missing baggage report with the airline right away will prompt them to both search for your baggage and start the clock to know when you can claim compensation,” noted Scott Keyes, author of "Take more vacations" and founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights. "If it’s been missing for five to 14 days, then you’re eligible for reimbursement for the missing bag and its contents, up to $3,800 for domestic flights and $1,780 for international flights."
Along with talking to the airline, he recommended checking to see if your credit card also offers compensation for delayed or lost baggage.
“Many include it automatically, as long as you used it to pay for the flight,” Keyes noted.
If you have travel insurance, read all baggage conditions.
"Travel insurance policies often include coverage for any lost or missing luggage," Miller said. "After filing a claim with the airline, always check to see if there are any additional claims that can be made on your insurance."
Keep all receipts.
Lost luggage not only disrupts vacation plans by stranding people without the things they’ve packed, but it also forces travelers to spend money on new things so they don’t have to carry their flight attire repeatedly or giving up brushing their teeth for days.
The good news is that you may be eligible for a refund ― as long as your purchases are "within reason."
“Keep receipts for any daily purchases you had to make as a result of the missing bag,” Keyes advised. "This may include clothing, toiletries or other everyday items."
File a complaint if necessary.
"If the airline is dragging its feet in providing compensation for missing baggage, don’t be afraid to file a complaint with the federal Department of Transportation," Keyes said.
The agency’s "Airline Services Complaint or Comment Form" allows travelers to report poor airline service with regards to baggage, as well as other issues, such as refund practices, discrimination, overbooking, family seats, and more.
You can also try to get the airline’s attention through social media. Sometimes tweeting in the company or by sending a direct message gives real results.
As frustrating as it is to be separated from your luggage, there are mechanisms in place to return it to you.
When staff shortages at London’s Heathrow airport led to mass cancellations and a sea of stranded luggage, Delta Air Lines flew a plane from London to Detroit filled with 1,000 pieces of luggage and zero passengers.
Travel experts are also hopeful for the future of checked-baggage flights.
"This issue will likely persist through the summer and then improve around Labor Day," Keyes said. “This is because travel demand is at its peak until mid-August and only starts to decline when school resumes in some parts of the country. We’re unlikely to see nearly that many lost bags in the fall.
Try to minimize the risk
“There are a few proactive steps you can take to avoid losing luggage in the first place — putting aside the most obvious advice to avoid checking a bag if you can,” Keyes said.
Consider the tips below to minimize your risk of ending up on vacation or returning home from a trip without your belongings:
Prioritize non-stop flights.
"If you haven’t booked a flight yet, give priority to nonstop flights or at least flights that don’t have close connections," Keyes said. "This transfer between planes is the place in the system where baggage is most likely to get lost."
Also avoid traveling with multiple airlines if possible. Sometimes it’s cheaper to plan multiple stops and transfers, but weigh the costs against the risk of losing your luggage.
Arrive at the airport very early.
“At the airport, try to arrive early — 90 minutes or more before your flight time, longer for international flights — to ensure your bag has enough time to get on board,” Keyes said.
Even if you don’t check a bag, getting to the airport early is important these days, as there have been countless reports of security lines going stretch the door. Having that extra time buffer will reduce stress while you wait in long, slow queues.
"If you have a GPS tracker, like Apple’s AirTagsthrow one away so you can keep tabs on where your bag is, especially if it gets lost,” Keyes advised.
Take a picture of your bag.
"Before you put your bag back on, open it up and take a quick photo with your cell phone," Keyes said. "That way, if the bag ends up getting lost, you’ll have photographic evidence of any important contents that you later want to seek compensation for."
Also take a picture of the outside of the bag. Make sure the label printed by the airline has the correct airport code, name and frequent flyer number, and take a photo of it. And remember to keep all receipts.
Pack all valuables in your hand luggage.
"Valuables and necessities should be packed in your carry-on bag," Miller said. “Items such as cash, medication, electronics, jewelry and anything else important to you should be carried with you at all times. Most airlines do not take responsibility for these items and won’t issue refunds for them, so just avoid packing them entirely in your checked baggage to be on the safe side.
Also, be sure to pack toiletries and at least one outfit and a pair of underwear in your hand luggage. It is better to be prepared than to wear the same clothes again if your suitcase gets lost.