Lost, delayed or damaged luggage will happen to all of us at some point on our travels – it’s the moment every traveller dreads. Here, we offer advice on what to do when it happens to you.
First moves at the airport
Head for your airline’s desk to fill in a missing or damaged bag form specific to that carrier. Most airlines have a desk in the baggage reclaim area but, if not, don’t leave without a member of staff filling out a Property Irregularity Report. Keep a copy of this. If your luggage or items are damaged, photograph them straight away.
You should submit a claim for damaged luggage in an email or letter within seven days. Include your journey and contact information – along with details about what was damaged and how – with before and after pictures if possible. The seven-day deadline is crucial. After this, the airline may not be legally obliged to compensate you.
Keep receipts for anything you buy as a result of a lost or delayed bag. You can claim from any of the airlines you have travelled with on a journey, although the final airline usually handles the claim so start there. You will need receipts to prove the value of your bag and its contents. If you buy expensive luggage, photograph or scan the receipts and save them to a cloud-based device ready for the day it goes missing. The UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) notes that airlines do not allow for “new for old” replacements and look at the value of the item based on its age when lost.
You can increase the amount the airline is liable to pay to around £2,300 by filling out a special declaration of interest form at the airport. You will have to pay a surcharge, so it’s worth contacting your airline in advance to check how much it would cost you.
Bags are technically only considered lost after 21 days, so a written complaint should be made as soon as possible after that. If the bag is returned to you but you incurred losses while it was absent (replacement items etc), then your compensation claim must be made within 21 days of the bag getting back to you. What are your rights?
Airlines are obliged by the Montreal Convention of 1999 to compensate you if your bag is lost, delayed or damaged en route, unless it took all “reasonable measures” to protect it, or if your luggage was faulty.
The problem is there are no rules setting out how much you should receive. It’s capped at around £1,000, but it’s unlikely you will receive anywhere near that much according to the CAA, which means you will have to rely on your insurance policy for items that take your losses over a few hundred pounds.
If you are unsatisfied with the airline’s response, you can try to retrieve damages in a small claims court for up to two years afterwards, if you think it’s worth it.
Travellers who check in late or transfer planes are more likely to lose their luggage. Airline groups such as Star Alliance offer a connection service on some routes that will alert staff to quick transfers and prioritise moving your bag. It’s also worth checking whether your airline has a bag tracking service and alerting them to tight transfers at check-in, just in case they can help you out.
The CAA recommends clearly displaying your name, address and contact information inside your baggage in case the airport tags are lost. Print it and leave it on top of your clothes. If your bag is a little worse for wear or you have delicate items inside, don’t forget that marking it as fragile is free.
In some cases, the CAA will help you make a complaint – a form is available on its website (caa.co.uk). Several websites will help you to check your legal rights and make a claim, but will likely take a chunk of whatever you are awarded.
There are also gadgets to help. Wistiki (wistiki.com) and Tile Pro (thetileapp.com) use Bluetooth to track items within a 200-300 foot radius. The Tile’s location can also be picked up by the app on other users’ phones and relayed to you. Missing X (missingx. com) is a digital lost property network that claims to have returned nearly two million items. It lets you register lost items and aims to help airports, train stations and hotels to contact you. There are also devices for tracking luggage on flights, but check the latest reviews as they can be temperamental. One option is Rebound Tag (reboundtag.com), a luggage tag with an RFID chip, QR code and other identifiers, giving airports a way to notify you if your bag is found – as soon as your bag is scanned, you’ll receive a text.
Baggage mishandling was reduced from 18.88 bags per 1,000 passengers to 5.57 between 2007 and 2017, according to the International Air Transport Association. But we all know it’s happened at least once to any frequent traveller, so knowing your rights might just help you out. Jenni Reid