My husband, son, and I were coming home from two weeks on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure in Zambia. We were finally in Phoenix after 5 flights and nearly 2 days straight of traveling. We were exhausted and hungry and couldn’t wait to get home. We got to baggage claim and our bags started arriving… 1, 2, 3, 4, and… there should be 5! There were only 4. The belt stopped. The sign said, “All bags delivered.” Um, no, they couldn’t be because the one with most of our souvenirs for ourselves, our friends, and our family was not there.
We headed to the airline’s baggage office with our checked luggage stubs in hand. She scanned them and there was no record of the missing bag in their system. We explained that we knew it made it at least as far as our leg to Washington, DC, because we had claimed our bags there in order to go through customs and then rechecked them. Unfortunately, all she could do was have us fill out a form for if/when the bag was located.
Travel often enough and this scenario will probably happen to you. It’s happened to me quite a few times now. Fortunately, there are things you can do to make it less stressful and even more likely that eventually, you will get your bag.
Before you go:
- Know your airlines’ lost/delayed baggage policy and pack accordingly. If they will only replace up to $3,300 for your bag’s contents, don’t pack more than $3,300 worth of stuff in there. Also, know that they often won’t replace “valuables” so know what they consider a “valuable” and keep those out as well.
- Never check anything irreplaceable. I’ve packed lots of breakable items in my checked luggage, but always replaceable ones. That snow globe you picked up at Disneyland? It’s OK to check as you can call Disneyland and get a new one shipped to you. Great Aunt Esther’s antique vase? Probably not. Of course, never pack prescription medication or other valuables in checked luggage.
Put something with your name and address and/or phone number INSIDE your luggage in addition to luggage tags on the outside. I always put a business card on top of my clothes. This way, if the outer tags end up broken or missing, the airline’s baggage team can still easily find to whom the luggage belongs.
- Know what your suitcase looks like down to the brand. When giving a description, saying, “It’s black and medium-sized” is not very helpful. There are thousands of black, medium-sized suitcases. A better description: It is a black, soft-sided, Samsonite. It’s about 29” by 19”. It’s a roller bag with four wheels and has and additional front pocket. While there are still probably a lot of those, this at least narrows the field down further. Better yet, get an off-color bag and or hard-sided one that’s less common.
- Pack a few essential items and a change of clothes in your carryon. This way, if your luggage is delayed, you’ll still have clean underwear and a toothbrush.
- Keep an idea of what you packed inside your bag. If it is lost, the airline will want to know its contents.
If your bag fails to appear on the carousel when it stops:
- Don’t panic. Most bags, something like 98% of them, eventually turn up.
- Go to the airline’s baggage office. If you’ve flown more than one airline on one reservation, like we did with our trip to Africa, the correct baggage office is the last airline you traveled. A couple of times my bag has been in the baggage office set aside for some reason or simply sitting near the baggage claim so I actually got it right away. When it wasn’t, they were able to scan my checked luggage stub and most times, tell me where my luggage was and how soon it would be arriving. Worst case scenario, they can get you started on the search/claims process.
- Be nice to the airline employees during the claims process. The people with whom you are speaking did not lose your luggage. They are trying to help you find it. It always pays to be nice to the people who are helping you!
- If you are away from home and your luggage is going to be delayed for more than a couple of hours or it is lost, ask what the airline will provide such as a toiletry kit, cash to purchase necessities, or reimbursement for a change of clothes to get you through. Your airline should have a policy on this (check their website).
- Confirm that the airline will deliver your bag to you if it is delayed or if it is found. Generally, they will deliver it to your hotel or home, although you’ll have the option to return to the airport to get it, which is usually the quicker option.
- Check to see if they will reimburse any checked luggage fees you paid. Many airlines will now refund the checked luggage fee if a bag is delayed or lost.
- Get a copy of all completed forms and the name of the person with whom you spoke. This will help if you need to continue contacting the airline.
- Keep in contact with the airline. They should be keeping in contact with you, but if they aren’t or if you have questions, contact them. Be sure to note your claims number and all relevant information during each contact.
- If your luggage is declared lost, be sure to completely fill out all forms, keep copies for yourself, and understand that the airline will only cover the depreciated value of the items. Check with your credit cards and homeowner’s insurance, however, as they will often also cover lost luggage and its contents.
So, what happened to my souvenirs from Africa? Later that day, I received a call from the airline that they had been found and would be arriving in Phoenix early the next morning. I was given the option of having the bag delivered to my home, but since I live close to the airport and was anxious to get my hands on it, I opted to return to the airport. 26 hours after reporting the bag lost, it was in my hands.