What To Do When Your Luggage Takes a Holiday

I travel a lot and very rarely check luggage but on a recent international trip I returned with some breakable art and had to check my very small under-seat suitcase. Happily, the art and I made it home on time but my bag did not.

As these things sometimes happen, my little bag made it from Auckland to Sydney, but not from Sydney to LA. Luckily, this happened at the end of the trip, and not the start, but the actions to take for delays/lost luggage are the same whichever side of the trip you find yourself.

  1. Always have identification. Having contact information on and in your bag, can help you get it back faster. For privacy concerns, I recommend your first initial, last name and an email address on the luggage tag and on an index card easily seen when the bag is opened.
  2. Never pack anything valuable in your suitcase. This includes medicine, electronics, jewelry you want to keep, and sentimental treasures. If you can’t/don’t want to carry it on the plane, ship it home.
  3. Take a photo of your bag. This is a huge time saver if you must file a claim. I go one step further and create a graphic of everything in the bag and the bag itself which helps identify the bag and provides an instant list of items in the event the bag is truly lost and you need to claim for recompense. It is even more helpful to have two photos; one of you standing next to the bag and a close-up of the bag by itself.
  4. Look around. After you’ve waited at the luggage carousel long enough, be sure to check the over-sized/odd-sized holding pen where they put golf clubs, car seats, and skis.
  5. Know who to blame. If you are flying a multi-leg trip, be sure to know which airline is responsible for assisting you. Domestic flights from point A to point B are straightforward but international or multi-leg trips get trickier as more than one carrier is involved in getting you and your bag to and from. In my situation, it was on a Qantas flight but American Airlines was the carrier through which I booked and that flew me to my destination, so I filed with them.
  6. File your report immediately. Each airline has different policies but all recommend immediate action. Do NOT leave the airport without filing a claim! You will be asked for the type of bag (style), any identifying features, your name, contact information, and address where you will be when they deliver it. Once you have filed the information, ask them what you need to do should the bag not be recovered within the specified time frame (usually five days). This helps with the ‘expect the best, prepare for the worst’ mantra I live by when traveling. In many instances, the airline will provide a small stipend allowing you to buy toiletries. United Airlines gave me a toiletry kit when my bag failed to arrive in Mexico. Southwest gave my $35 when my bag got lost from PHX to JAX, enough for toiletries, undies, and a drugstore t-shirt to sleep in. Check this policy online for your carrier before you go, as it can alleviate stress in the heat of the moment. To expedite the filing, keep checked bag tags and boarding passes for each segment of the trip. Having flight numbers helps the representative do what they do.
  7. Relax. Your bag will get to you eventually (or not) and if you’ve followed the first three actions listed in this article everything else can be replaced. This is easy to write and hard to do. Trust me, I know. After 30 hours in transit, I admit I had a tiny meltdown when my bag didn’t arrive in LA for me to take through Customs before hoping my final flight home. Thankfully, it was short-lived and I knew if the bag was truly lost, all I had to was buy new clothes and a camera battery charger. A small price to pay in the grand scheme of things, right?

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My bag arrived three days after it should have, but was all intact with nothing damaged or missing. This time the story ended well but the “rush” tag did make me chuckle. What other advice would you add to this list? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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