What happens if your checked bag is lost? What if it's delayed? Here's what you're owed, what to do.
Among many travel headaches this summer, including flight delays and cancellations, there is another that can be particularly frustrating: delayed or lost luggage.
Scott Keyes, founder of Scott's Cheap Flights, said that the statistics lag by a couple of months, "I think that it is reasonable to assume that the rate of bags being mishandled in the U.S. is probably a little bit higher right now given the problems that are plaguing the airlines in general," citing issues including staffing shortages and high travel demand.
"All those things put stress on the system, and it's not as though the baggage handling system is somehow completely immune from those factors," said Keyes, noting that the problem is significantly worse in Europe.
Here are some tips on what to do if your bags are delayed or lost, including how airlines might compensate you.
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What should you do if an airline loses your bags?
Olivia Nash Richardson, founder of the travel agency Nash Travel Management, said to keep a detailed list of everything you have packed.
"Keep it on your phone or whatever so you know the approximate value of what you're packing," she said. Keyes also suggested taking pictures of the items so you have proof.
If your bag does not show up at your destination, Richardson said, don't leave the airport and go straight to the luggage counter with photos of your bag – something travelers should keep on their phones – the brand, dimensions, and any other identifying features.
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Will the airline compensate you for missing luggage?
For delayed luggage, airlines have to compensate passengers for "reasonable, verifiable, and actual incidental expenses that they may incur while their bags are delayed," within maximum liability limits, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
For domestic flights, that amount is $3,800, though airlines can choose to pay more. For most international flights, that number is lower at about $1,780.
If airlines find that a bag is lost, they have to compensate you for its contents, taking depreciation into account as well as the same maximum liability amounts.
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Keyes said airlines will try to reimburse passengers for "more or less the exact dollar amount that you lost." Richardson also suggested reading the airline's lost luggage policy before leaving for your trip.
In the case of delayed luggage, American Airlines, for instance, will reimburse passengers for items they "need immediately while away from home without your bags," according to its website. The airline advises travelers to send copies of their baggage claim checks and ticket receipt, their file reference number, and dated, original itemized receipts within 30 days.
If an airline is dragging its feet in compensating you, Keyes said, file a complaint with the DOT.
How like is your luggage to go missing permanently?
In the U.S., airlines mishandled almost 220,000 bags in April, according to the DOT's Air Travel Consumer Report.
However, Richardson said bags going missing for good "isn't uncommon, but it isn't as prevalent either." In her experience, 30% of bags that go missing are never reunited with their owners.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: What happens if your checked bag is lost? Here's what to do.