The airline lost my luggage. What do I do?

There is always a small possibility for the airline to lose your luggage when flying, but until this actually happens to you, you won’t really know what to do.

I was put in this situation a few months ago, on my way to Cuba. I found a cheap ticket to Havana from Milano – Italy, so I’ve book an extra flight from London, the night before. I had enough time to change airports and also to visit my friend Letizia, who lives in Milano. But surprise, I arrived in Italy yet my luggage was left behind, in London. There was no way for the airline (AlItalia) to deliver it until my next flight, in the morning, so I had to continue my journey to Cuba only with the promise that my backpack will arrive in a few days.

You can guess that my bag never arrived. I’ve spent two and a half weeks in Cuba without any of my belongings, thinking about the worse and trying to contact the airline instead of enjoying my time there.

On my return, while in Italy again, I went to the Lost and Found and asked about the whereabouts of my luggage. Long story short, after a month, I finally received it, back home. Since then I’ve been through a war with the airline for compensation, and after I finally received the money back for all my expenses, I thought about writing this guide on what to do when the airline looses your bag.

The inevitable has happened

So there you are, the only person still standing near the conveyor belt, looking how it goes round and round, waiting for your luggage. You hear a beep, the belt stops, and your luggage is nowhere to be found. What do you do?

The first step is to go immediately to the Lost and Found office and obtain the PIR report. If this is your inbound flight ask the Lost and Found for an emergency toiletries bag. I only found out that the airline will give you toiletries when it was too late. And of course, they did not offer it to me and because I didn’t ask, I didn’t get any. As a tip, always have your toothpaste, toothbrush, deodorant, a pair or underwear and a spare T-shirt in your cabin bag. You never know…

The next thing you have to do is to inform your hotel at your destination that your bag has been lost and that (hopefully) it will be delivered to you in the next couple of days. You will have a tracking code given by the Lost and Found office and you can track your missing suitcase here:

If you are lucky, you will be reunited with your bag in a few days. If you are unlucky, like me, you will receive your missing bag after a month. It’s important to know that after 21 days, according to the Montreal Convention, your luggage is considered lost, even if it gets found afterwards.

How to file a claim

It is very important to know that you have to start the procedures to receive compensation from the airline as soon as possible, as you have limited time to do this:

– for delayed or missing luggage you have a deadline of 21 days to contact the airline

– for lost luggage you have to wait until 21 days have passed and then make your claim as soon as possible

According to the Montreal Convention, the maximum compensation an airline can pay you is 1,131 euros. Of course, no airline will want to pay you that much amount of money, but in some cases they will have to. In my case, initially they offered me a compensation of 80 euros. In the end they paid 1,131!

What documents do I need to file a claim?

Here is a list with all the documents that you will need in order to file a claim for your lost luggage:

– your boarding card

– the luggage tags (which are usually stick on the back of the boarding card)

– the PIR report which you obtained from the Lost and Found office

– the receipts of all the things you had to buy because of the lost luggage (toiletries, clothes – depending on the delay of the suitcase)

– if your luggage is never found, you have to make a list with all the items inside and an approximate cost of each piece

My advice is that before the trip, make a list with all your belongings from the suitcase and also take a picture. You will never know when it’s going to be handy. I had a lot of toys in my suitcase to which I took a picture before I left, and that was how my missing backpack has been identified. The airline will ask for pictures in case the tag has broken down and they need to identify your suitcase by the items that are inside.

Where do you file the claim?

Most of the airlines will have a lost luggage claim form on their website. If they don’t, simply write a letter to their customer service department including the following information:

– the details of your flight: date, hour, flight number, departure and destination

– a description of what happened

– how much money you are asking for

– a description of the items in your luggage

– a list of everything you had to buy because your bag has been lost and their receipts

– copies of the above documents

What happen if I’m not happy with the airline’s reply?

If the airline refuses to compensate you or if you think the compensation does not cover your expenses, you can take your claim further.

My claim was handled by the CAA, the Civil Aviation Authority. Complain to them and ask them to take your complaint to the airline on your behalf. The procedure can take up to 10 weeks but it is free and if you can’t reason with the airline they are the best people to help you.

Another solution is to take the airline to the small claims court. The fee to do this depends on the amount of money you are claiming for, the maximum being Β£70. This is a time consuming option and it can become costly if you end up going to court. However, if you win, the airline will pay you back the court fees together with the compensation they owe you.

The third option is to make a claim to your insurance. I tried this but they were asking for the receipts of all the items I had in my luggage, which I didn’t have.

In the end, I wish this will never happen to you! But there is always a chance, so remember: always keep the receipts of everything you are buying while your luggage is missing, have an extra change of clothes in your hand bag and don’t you ever think that the airline won’t compensate you. Believe in the Montreal Convention! πŸ™‚

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Traveler. Dreamer. Cat lover. Wondering around the world with my backpack and my camera. Contributing to make the world a better place.


    1. Me too! It was such a nightmare! But now I know the procedure so if it happens again I’ll know what to do πŸ™‚

  1. I didn’t know about the CAA – will keep that name around. Knock on wood I have been lucky so far and my luggage was never more delayed than a few days. But still, I always say thank you to the luggage gods once I see my bag on the belt πŸ™‚

  2. Yuck, what a nightmare. The only time this has happened to me I received my luggage a few hours later at my doorstep. Sorry to hear about this awful situation. Thanks for the helpful information! It will come in handy one day I am sure!

  3. Oh dear! That happened with me once on a connecting flight and I filed the official complaint. Sadly I could never get my luggage back but yes I was well compensated for the same.

    1. That’s awful that they couldn’t find your luggage. I had hope and got it back after a month. Some things were missing from it but I was happy I got my trusty backpack back, as it’s been with me on 4 continents so far.

  4. Ughhhh losting airport luggage totally sucks. Ours turned up the next day thank goodness and delivered to our doorstep. Great to know about the CAA – so sorry your bags were gone for that long! x

  5. This was something I was worried about traveling to Europe which is why we decided on just bringing a carry on for our trip! But I know that’s not realistic for most people so this is an awesome and informative post!

    1. I also travel only with a carry on most of the times, but when I do long travels I take my 65 liter backpack with me and fill it with toys, so I need to check it in.

  6. I wish this doesn’t happen to anyone! It happened with a celebrity sportsman from India – Sachin Tendulkar and the topic blew up via twitter. For obvious reasons that he is one of the richest sportsman in the world! I think all airlines are taking extra care to avoid such customer hassles.

    1. I did trying to contact the airline on social media and it was a total disaster, haha. They kept sending me from one place to another, saying that they can’t find my report number.

  7. I hope this never happens again! I always get nervous standing at baggage claim the longer it takes for mine to appear. These are some great tips – appreciate you taking the time to spell it out for us!

    1. You’re welcome! I know how many hours I’ve spent looking for information, so I thought to compile all the steps in one post, to be useful for travelers that get their luggage lost by the airlines.

  8. I am lucky that this hasn’t happened to me yet but it is so stressful when it does because you might have valuables that cannot be replaced!

  9. Oh my goodness, losing my luggage is my worst fear. I don’t know what I would do, but thank you for the post, it keeps my eyes open and thoughts clear if that ever happens to me.

    1. My insurance asked for receipts of all the items I had in my luggage. Who keeps receipts of clothes and toiletries, especially if they are bought a year before?

    1. Yeah, I think that is a fare amount for two and a half weeks of stress and then another month of arguing with the airline and trying to make them respect my rights.

  10. I can imagine the hassle I have to go through if my luggage gets lost! Lately, I’ve been taking photos of my luggage because there are just a lot of unforeseen things that happen in an airport. Thanks for all the advise here! I’m bookmarking this post.

  11. I can only pray that my luggage travels safely with me when I go to Europe this summer… if not though, i know what to do now! Thanks!!

  12. I have never lost my luggage before but now I am paranoid and glad I have these tips. I had no idea there was so much involved. I am glad to know for an emergency toiletry bag. Thanks!

  13. Wow. That’s horrible to not have your luggage for not only your trip but for a while! I never knew that 21 days was the maximum amount of time for them to technically find it. But I’d should never be gone that long anyway. Glad you got it back eventually and awesome that they paid you the max payout for it on top of it! Did you buy all new clothes while in cuba?????

  14. OMG!!! This is such an embarrassing incident. A similar case also happened to one of my colleagues who is based in a country different from mine. He just visited us for business purposes and his luggage was accidentally put in another flight. Imagine the 17-hour flight he had to endure and then he will be additionally stressed knowing his things were improperly handled. Such an informative post πŸ™‚

  15. I’ve only flown twice and this was my fear each time. Thank you for writing a guide on how the process works, You never know when you will be in this situation. I am glad they finally found your luggage.

  16. Thanks for the tips! I had never imagined that this may happen to me as well, but reading your story, I guess one never really knows. This is why it’s important to have a separate carry-on bag with all your valuables such as money, passport, etc., in case your luggage gets delayed or lost.

  17. Great info.We are planning to go abroad sometime this year and your post covered a situation which I hope won’t happen.It’s such a hassle.

  18. Your post is very helpful to travellers worldwide. God forbid that this happens to my family when we travel though (having kids when travelling is damn enough πŸ˜€ ), and this is the reason why when we travel, it’d be best to just have everything you may need in the carry on bag as much as possible. πŸ™‚

  19. Experience indeed is the best teacher, that’s an unfortunate experience but bec. of your willingness to share knowledge, we now know what to do if this happen to us anytime soon (hope not).

  20. That happened to me once. Turns out they sent it to the wrong airport. They found it and brought it to me a few days later at my house.

  21. That’s one of the most terrible things that can happen when you’re traveling especially if you’re going to another country. I’m sorry it had to happen to you and I’m glad you finally have all the things back even your money. This is such a helpful guide a lot of people will benefit from it.

  22. Oh my gosh, I hope this never happens to me but it’s good to know what to do if it does. From now on, I’ll keep a change of clothes and toiletries in my carry on just in case. I’m sorry you had to go through this, it would totally ruin my trip.

  23. Wow, nice tips! I worried so much and I don’t trust airline companies due to some horror stories I’ve heard about them.

  24. Not so much to do with helping to recover lost luggage, but one trick my husband and I always do is if we are checking bags, we put a change of underwear and a clean t-shirt rolled up in our carry-on as a just in case. A hotel should be able to provide you with minimal toiletries and then you have some fresh clothing for the following day when you then can go out in search of buying replacement items and you can wash what you wore on the plane in the sink. If we go to a tropical destination, a bathing suit always goes in my carry on too.

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