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This Is Exactly What You Should Do When an Airline Loses Your Luggage

Good Housekeeping logo Good Housekeeping 5/3/2019 Nicole Saporita, Good Housekeeping Institute
a truck that is sitting on top of a car: Lost luggage? Here's what to do to help find your suitcase, get compensation, and try to prevent your suitcase from going missing in the first place. © Colin Anderson Productions pty ltd - Getty Images Lost luggage? Here's what to do to help find your suitcase, get compensation, and try to prevent your suitcase from going missing in the first place.

No matter how carefully you plan your vacation itinerary or pack your suitcase, there’s nothing that can prepare you for every traveler’s worst nightmare: Lost luggage.

While it’s rare that your suitcase will be lost forever, according to the the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), that doesn't help the anxiety of waiting for it to appear on the baggage claim carousel.

Whether it's delayed a few hours, days, or completely gone, nearly 35% of you have had dealt with a suitcase going MIA (according to a recent survey by the Good Housekeeping Institute of over 3,800 consumers). That's why tapped our travel experts to give their must-know tips and tricks for preparing for the worst, and dealing with it if it does happen to you.

How can I prevent my luggage from getting lost?

We used to think that taking only a carry-on and personal item was the way to make sure you'd arrive with all your items, but that's no longer the case. Since many airlines charge to check even one bag, more travelers are opting to skip this step completely.

Overhead bin space has become a hot commodity (some basic fares even charge extra for it), and that's why, even if you make it through security with your carry-on, you still could be forced to gate-check due to space constraints. While there's no way to control what happens to your bag after you check it, there are some things you can do to prepare for all the what ifs:

1. Check in early and take a direct flight.

The majority of luggage mishaps happen because of tight connections or late check-ins. Give yourself plenty of time to get the airport (and wait in line), and make sure your connections aren't cutting it too close. This is especially true if you're switching carriers! You have the best chance of reuniting with your suitcase on a direct flight, or a flight with a stop-over (meaning you don't have to de-plane).

2. Take a photo of your bag before you leave.

If anything happens, you can show the picture to an agent. It'll be much easier and more accurate than trying to describe your bag. Want to upgrade to a suitcase that will stand out? Check out our Textiles Lab's top luggage picks for 2019. Most of the pieces from the best overall brand, Away, come in 10 different colors. Pick one that will be easily recognizable in a sea of black suitcases for extra back-up!

3. Double up on luggage tags.

You likely already have one attached to the outside of your bag. But in case that gets ripped off during transit, it's a good idea to tuck another on the inside with your name, number, and email address - or slip in a business card.

4. Keep a packing list in your phone.

Not only will it keep you from overpacking and help pre-plan vacation outfits, it'll also be useful if you have to file a claim for everything in your suitcase. We recommend using a notes app on your phone to save a list of the essentials you always want to bring, and then updating for every trip depending on what actually made it into your bag.

5. Split clothes 50-50.

If you’re traveling with a partner or a friend, pack half of your items in one bag and half in another. Since the chances are already slim that an airline will lose your luggage, the chances are even slimmer that it'll happen to both suitcases.

6. Keep essentials in your personal bag.

We all know to keep important things like prescriptions, electronics, and other delicate items in our carry-on bag or better yet, our personal item. But you should also stash a full change of clothes (plus, a bathing suit if you're headed somewhere warm!) and anything else you couldn't replace on short notice, like heels for a fancy dinner or sneakers for a big race. If you're worried about fighting for overhead bin space or gate-checking, opt for one of these great underseat luggage picks.

What happens if my luggage is lost?

a person standing next to a bag of luggage: How to find lost luggage © David-Prado - Getty Images How to find lost luggage

Immediately head to customer service to file a report and to see if agents can track down your bag. "Breathe deeply and don’t lose your cool," says Sarah Bogdan, GH product analyst. She recently arrived in Peru for a vacation (including a jungle trek!) only to find her luggage was nowhere to be found.

While it was eventually found three days later, her biggest piece of advice: Pester, pester pester! Don't let the airline forget about you if you leave the airport sans suitcase. You have to be your biggest advocate. Airlines deal with so many complaints every day it can be easy to get lost in the system. Some other tips:

1. Describe notable packed items. When you file a report with the service desk, list things in your bag that are easily recognizable (like bright yellow hat or metallic gold sneakers). Drawing a blank on what you packed? Here's where that packing list will come in handy!

2. Give your local contact info. Include an address and number for where you’re staying (like a hotel, Airbnb, or a friend’s house). Ask for a copy of the report and a phone number for follow-up. Most bags are returned within a few hours, but it’s still helpful to have a paper trail even if the airline tells you your stuff is on it’s way.

3. Get short-term reimbursement. Unless you’re arriving home from a trip, most airlines will cover the necessities (like toiletries and a change of clothes) while you wait for your luggage. Since every company has its own policies, check with the agent filing your report to see how reimbursements are handled. The airline may give you a cash advance or refund purchases, so be sure to save all.

4. Loop in your hotel. If you’re just landing at your destination, let the front-desk staff know what’s going on. You may be able to help get your bag back faster if they call the airline - especially if you aren’t fluent in the local language.

How can I get compensation for my lost luggage?

If your suitcase never makes it back to you, you're eligible for up to $3,500 from the airline, according to the DOT. You'll have to fill a claim (yes, yet another form) with detailed, itemized descriptions of what was in your lost bag. Then, get ready for negotiations. Unless you've kept receipts for every purchase made, you'll likely have to haggle over what your items are worth, minus depreciation.

Some airlines may also offer flight credits instead of a check. While these may sound appealing and add up to more than what you would get in cash, be sure to ask about any restrictions or blackout dates before deciding which option is best for you. And be patient: it could take up to three months for things to get fully settled.

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