How to Deal With and Avoid Lost Luggage

Have your bags ever fallen victim to the bottomless pit of lost luggage? If you’re a frequent flyer and the airlines haven’t lost your luggage before then consider yourself lucky. As frustrating as it is when the airlines lose your luggage, I guess you have to put it down to human error… these things happen. At the same time, it can be an extremely annoying experience when your luggage is MIA and you have no idea where it is or how to get it back.

We answer some frequently asked questions about lost luggage and how things like this happen in the first place and discuss what you need to do to retrieve it from the Bermuda triangle of lost luggage.


What percentage of checked bags are lost?

Airlines are getting smarter about baggage handling and relying on technology such as luggage tags and automated tracking systems to track luggage at major transfer points. This means the chances of your checked bags getting lost are very slim. However, the chances of luggage being put on another flight or taking a detour to another airport are greater on connecting flights.

The scientific theory I like best is that the rings of Saturn are composed entirely of lost airline luggage.” – Mark Russell

What happens if an airline loses my luggage?

If your luggage goes AWOL the first step is to not panic and blame or be nasty to the airport staff or people who are trying to help. This is what you should do if you find yourself standing at the carousel and your bag is nowhere to be seen:

  • First check the other carousels, baggage office, or holding area. It is rare that this happens, but there is always a chance that your bag made the flight but was offloaded somewhere else.
  • If your bag was delayed, the check-in tag on your luggage should allow the airline’s online system to figure out where your bag is and why it was delayed.
  • If your luggage has disappeared without a trace, you will need to report it to the airline and/or baggage claim office immediately. If you were on a connecting flight you will need to report it to the operating airline of your last flight. Include a detailed description of your bag and travel itinerary and be sure to include contact information so they can get hold of you. You should also ensure you get a reference number.
  • Follow up with the airline within 24 hours and request a reimbursement for your checked baggage fee (if applicable).
  • If the airline is able to locate and retrieve your luggage they should courier it to you free of charge, but this is not always the case. Double check if there is a delivery fee and don’t be afraid to insist that they return it to you, especially if the items you lost were valuable.
  • If your luggage is not found and returned after 21 days it is considered lost forever. You will then be able to make a ‘lost baggage’ claim with the airline and be compensated for your loss. The claim process is a lot more detailed so you will be required to list everything that was in the bag and include purchase dates and receipts for expensive items.

Note. Different airlines may have different policies for lost luggage.

lost luggage

How much do airlines have to pay for lost luggage?

Various airlines offer compensation for essential purchases if your luggage is delayed and compensation for your luggage and its contents if it is lost forever. If you are claiming expensive items as part of the lost items, you will be asked to prove that you owned those items.

Note: Certain airlines do not take responsibility for expensive items such as visas, computer equipment, electronic devices, mobile phones, fragile items, business documents, and jewellery in lost luggage.

How do I track lost luggage?

Most airline websites have a lost baggage tracker section where you can put in the tracking number and see the status of your luggage.

travel luggage

How can I avoid losing my luggage?

Having travel insurance is great, but most of us will agree that we want to get our original belongings back. Fortunately, there are some precautions you can take to ensure you never lose valuable luggage.

  • Pack valuables and your favourite jacket in your carry-on luggage. Many airlines do not cover valuables that get lost or stolen in checked bags. This includes passports, cameras, cellphones, money, and jewellery.
  • Clearly label your bag with your contact details and destination. This will make it easy for the airline to track you down and return your luggage.
  • Make sure the person who checks your luggage attaches the correct destination ticket.
  • Customise your checked bag to make it easy to identify so somebody doesn’t grab it by accident. Buy a suitcase in a distinct colour or get a unique luggage belt or tag.
  • Ensure you have enough time between connecting flights and avoid late check-ins. If you barely make a flight there is a good chance your luggage won’t. If you are flying with multiple airlines you will have to re-check your luggage.
  • Make sure that you keep the luggage stub from your checked luggage as it is a critical piece of information to prove ownership should your luggage get lost or stolen. The ground staff will usually stick it on the back of your boarding pass.
  • Consider getting traceable luggage tags. They are nifty inventions with GPS locators that give you more control over the whereabouts of your luggage when it’s out of your sight. They work on a global scale and will give you peace of mind for those long-haul flights where multiple connecting flights and stopovers can increase your chances of losing your luggage.

travel bags

Unfortunately, many travellers are at the mercy of airlines when it comes to luggage, but by clearly labelling your luggage and being careful about choosing a flight with enough connection time between flights, you should be able to avoid having to deal with lost luggage.

Add Delayed and Lost Baggage Protection to your flight booking and our partner, Blue Ribbon Bags will try to locate your luggage within 96 hours from the time your flight lands.

Has your luggage ever gone missing on a trip? Let us know how you dealt with it in the comments section below!

And don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date with the latest travel articles and flight specials.

Also see:


All information on this blog page was correct at the time of publishing and may change at any time without prior notice. Travelstart will not be liable for loss or inconvenience arising from the use of this information.

Our Readers Comments

  1. How do I claim for lost items stolen from my bag

    • Hi Carol,

      Thanks for reaching out and sorry to hear this.

      If you have purchased baggage or travel insurance. You would need to contact the company you have purchased this through.

      They will assist and advise on the correct procedures to follow and what documents they would need.

Have something to say...