What To Do When Your Luggage Is Hopelessly Totally Completely Lost

Here at Consumerist we get a lot of complaints that go something like this:

“XYZ Airlines lost my f**cking luggage. F*ck. Sh*t. They won’t call me back or listen to me. I hate them. I miss my shoes, my camera, my ren. fair costume, my dog, my saxophone, my collection of rare Hummels, my great aunt suzy’s diamonds, my lizard… (No, seriously. The lizard and the ren. fair costume are real complaints. Airlines will lose, steal or mistreat anything.)

I hate XYZ airlines. What can I do to make them find my luggage?”

Let’s assume that if you’re writing to us your luggage has been missing for a long time. Ok. It’s gone. We’re sorry. Next time don’t check bags through Philadelphia. Here’s what to do when you’ve given up all hope:

  • Accept the fact that you’re going to need to fill out another claim form with the airline. You probably already did this when your bag failed to greet you at your destination. Sorry. It’s time to fill out a second form. If you took more than one airline, the last airline you traveled on should be responsible for your baggage. Get a claim form from them.

  • Make an itemized list of all your lost stuff. The airline is going to compensate you for the depreciated value of your stuff rather than its replacement value. Use this tidbit of information however you see fit, but do understand that airlines will reject a claim that they suspect is fraudulent.

  • Expect to negotiate. The airline doesn’t want to pay you. They may ask for receipts or other proof of the value of your crap.

  • Here’s the fun part. There are limits to how much compensation you are entitled to. In the US, the limit is $3,000. For international flights there’s something called the Montreal Convention that establishes the limit. This limit is currently 1,000 SDR. The value of SDR (Special Drawing Rights) changes daily. You can check out its current value by visiting the International Monetary Fund’s website.

  • Once you’ve got all of that settled, you’ll want to register your complaint with the Department of Transportation. Complaints sent to the DOT end up in that Air Travel Consumer Report that media people just love to use to embarrass the airlines.

  • After all is said and done, if you’re in the neighborhood, check out the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, Alabama. This is where most of the lost baggage eventually ends up. Perhaps you can buy your stuff back.

    (Photo:saramarie)

    File A Complaint With The DOT

  • Comments

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    1. blue_duck says:

      *Note to self* Do not pack lizard…

    2. Heyref says:

      Regarding the stray bag shown in the photo. No, it is not mine. If it was mine, there would be a fuel truck about to run over it.

    3. Buran says:

      … or don’t check luggage. I don’t. I don’t trust airlines. And when I’m forced to do it anyway, the bag that gets checked doesn’t have anything that’s not t-shirts and shorts/pants in it. I already have too many t-shirts. Lost some? So what?

    4. Streyeder says:

      I love that store!! They.ve got some great deals! :)

    5. fuzzycuffs says:

      I’ve had a bag lost with Alaskan Airlines.

      They’ll look for your bag for a week or so at the airport that you flew into. Then look for it for a week at the airport you flew from (and presumably any connectings). Then there’s a 2 week “baggage graveyard” or something that they search.

      During that, they’ll send you a form to fill out with a place to put a value to the piece of luggage and all the items that were in it. One bit of information, at least for Alaskan: Any single item worth over $100 requires a receipt. They’ll also ask for the time of purchase, assuming to depreciate things on whatever scale they seem acceptable.

      Luckily (or not, I guess), all the items I had lost were $100 or less, so I didn’t have to provide any receipts. All of them were relatively new, though, so nothing was depreciated. I got the check for ~$600 (it was a carry on, but a pretty full one) a week after all that searching.

      Also, if you’re going to itemize, remember to itemize even the simple things you might forget. A bottle of cologne in your toiletries bag is actually pretty expensive (at least, the stuff I wear is hehehe).

    6. ChrisC1234 says:

      I just saw an ad yesterday for Flylite.com, where supposedly you’ll never have to check a bag again if you travel enough. You send them your stuff, they maintain it in a “virtual closet”, where you can “pack your bag” and it will just show up at your destination. The bag will then go back to their “virtual closet” where they’ll launder everything and store it for your next trip. If I traveled a lot, I’d probably try it out. It seems to be a little pricy ($100 / trip), but if I was traveling every other week and could afford it, I’d probably use it.

    7. So basicly, the max you can get from international flights is aproximately $1544.45 today? That’s half of the max for flights within the US. That sucks.

    8. Flibbetigibbet says:

      I’ve been to the Unclaimed Baggage store before (actually the now-closed second location in Boaz, AL). That’s a wild scene. Great place to get books, CDs odd computer parts and laptop batteries. Not everything is cheap (or as cheap as I think it ought to be), and they obviously pull out the really valuable stuff to sell elsewhere, but it’s still a neat place to rummage through.

    9. hootymcboob says:

      I work in student housing, dealing with mostly international students. Recently, a student flew in from Thailand, through California, ending in Philadelphia. Her bags were lost, though she brought them through customs in California. I advised her to follow up every day with the airline and to keep records of all forms, receipts, emails, and claims she sent them. Her bags were eventually found a month later–in Alaska.

    10. IRSistherootofallevil says:

      I’m usually not a fan of frivolous lawsuits, but in this case, this is such a huge problem that a lawsuit is worth it. Sue the airlines, refuse to settle, and make sure you get something like “emotional distress” in the filing somewhere. Win a seven-figure judgement, and the airlines will come crawling back to everyone whose bags got lost to settle. All it takes is ONE lawsuit to either go class action or scare the shit out of the airlines.

    11. magus_melchior says:

      Ultimate irony: Flying to Scotsdale, Alabama to recover luggage; airline then losing it on the flight home.

    12. timmus says:

      This is yet another reason that I have not flown in years. The airlines can have my business back when they stop behaving like dicks.

    13. jonadair says:

      Years ago I lost a $20,000 network analyzer on a flight. As always, I carried it on in it’s own rolling case. Except when I got to the second leg of my flight the tiny propeller plane was too small for standard carry-on cases to fit under the seats or overhead. So I had to “gate check” it, which consisted of setting it on the tarmac with the other carry-ons next to the cargo door and climbing the stairs.

      When I get to Maine, there’s no sign of the bag. I even looked in the cargo hold myself. None of the other 5 passengers had it. What, did it fall out of the plane?

      I spent hours filling out paperwork and explaining why I didn’t insure it when I checked it. When I woke up in the morning, the hotel desk had a message for me. They had my bag.

      I never got an explanation, but I’m sure our network analyzer spent the night on the tarmac at Newark airport.

    14. Gaurav Patel says:

      Southwest Airlines lost my bag recently. I followed their process for a lost baggage claim and also submitted a DOT complaint. Surprisingly Southwest was forwarded a copy of my complaint and chose to match it to my file and issue a letter apologizing again for their mistake and have made good on the reimbursement for my lost items.

      With Southwest, I am generally fairly happy with the situation and can say everyone has been fairly courteous along the way considering how hard it is to lose my bag.