Flying nowadays is stressful enough without your airline losing your luggage, but it happens quite frequently leaving travelers stranded and frustrated at baggage claim. According to Gary Stoller of USA Today, the last statistics given out by the U.S. Department of Transportation in 2011 stated that throughout the world 12.07 pieces of luggage are lost or mislaid on airlines for every 1,000 passengers. Believe it or not, it is against the law for a passenger's bags to get lost in the ether. The Warsaw Convention and Montreal Convention have provisions for United Nations-sanctioned regulations outlining the responsibilities of airlines. Put simply: your airline falls under this jurisdiction and your luggage should be safe
That's the law, but what is the reality? Imagine: you're stuck in Minneapolis in January, but somehow your sweaters ended up in Miami. So what do you do when this happens to you?
Be calm and nice. Firstly, chances are, the airline has just mislaid your things, and they can be sent to you on the next plane. Don't jump to nasty conclusions and start biting people's heads off. Be polite to airline staff, and they will more than likely get to the bottom of the problem very quickly. And once found, they will bring your luggage to you wherever you are. Insist on that, unless, that is, you love airports.
Be swift and report the loss quickly. If your bags have been sucked into a hole, then start action immediately. Do not wait until the end of your vacation. Always send a written statement, sent by registered post, within seven days of your loss, or be even more proactive, and make sure that any letter is received at the airline's human resources office as quick as possible. You may also want to call the airline, using the main number of the major American airlines' headquarters. About.com has a list of these that should be kept handy. (Note: ConsumerSearch is owned by About.com, but the two do not share an editorial affiliation.)
Account for your lost items. In your report, list all your belongings and add next to each its worth. It is unlikely that you would still have kept all the receipts, but that should not matter, even if the airline says it does. It might try and bluff you, to see if you are serious. Be serious.
Know what you are entitled to. According to The Travel Insider, American-based airlines are duty bound to pay up to $3,300 per passenger for lost luggage, but international airlines only are subject to approximately $1,800. This website also has more excellent information on your rights, including what you should you do if your journey involved more than one airline.
Do the math. Find out what the airline might give you so that you can buy what you need. Also inquire about any other costs they will cover for unexpected spending that you incur because of the airline's negligence, but be aware that the airline might deduct these costs from the compensation they pay you later.
Keep all the new receipts. According to Which?, a United Kingdom consumer-rights organization, you should not buy valuables - jewelry, iPhones, top-of-the-range cameras, priceless Amazonian artefacts...the airlines simply are very unlikely to pay for them.
Avoid the possibility; carry on. Personally, I am like the Armchair Traveler, and what does not come into the cabin with me, doesn't come at all. For advice on how to get all you need for your journey packed up in your carry on, check out our blog on no-bag travel.
Has an airline ever lost your bags? Tell us what happened.