What to do when an Airline Loses your Luggage
Packing Tips Travel Tips

What to Do When An Airline Loses Your Luggage

July 12, 2019

You all know I’m totally a believer in Carry-On travel. I only check a bag if I absolutely have to and that’s hardly ever! But, trips vary, and sometimes I do have to check a bag whether I like it or not. So guess what? My luggage was lost by an airline recently. What do you do when an airline loses your luggage?  Here is my experience with American Airlines. 

First off, I RARELY check a bag.  The only reason I chose to check a bag this time is because I had to pack presents for my friends and have room to bring some local adult beverages back to my collection.  So, I still packed a carry on amount but just in a Medium sized checked bag. The upside about having my bag lost is that I can now tell you the absolute best process to get your bag back! The process should not have to stress you too much, and you can get compensated for what you have to buy or for what was in the bag should it never be found. 

The process starts with being prepared before you even check you bag.  Having developed a process and system before leaving helped immensely when the inevitable happened to my checked bag.

Before You Go

Know your suitcase! You will need to know the color, measurements, and brand of your bag when you fill out a lost bag claim. It’s easy to snap a picture and make a note. 

Take A Picture

If you file any kind of insurance claim, you need to know what you packed. Take a picture of what you are packing before packing it up so you know everything you packed and can list it in a claim for reimbursement for the lost luggage. 

Take a Picture so you know what to do if luggage is lost

Know your Itinerary

If they find your bag, the airline is going to need to know where to send it.  If you are moving to different hotels, they will need to know the hotel address and contact information and the days you will be there.  Maybe use the TRIPIT app to organize all this information and have it readily available. 

Pack A Carry On Carefully

Your carry on will play an important role if the airline loses your luggage. The reason I was not stressed was because I had my medicine, electronics, and a spare shirt and underwear with me in my personal bag.  I pack some clothes in a Packing Cube. I always pack these items in a personal bag, because if your carry on is gate checked you will still be separated from your medicine and electronics.   

Put your Emergency clothes in this cube

Eagle Creek Pack It Cube Medium – Anything you want to fold and roll. The ideal place to store your extra clothes in your carry on.

Check the Airline Claim Tag

When they put that long sticky tag on your bag, glance at it to make sure it says the correct destination airport and KEEP THE LITTLE STICKER THEY GIVE YOU.  That sticker corresponds to the stickers and tag on the bag and is absolutely necessary.  Don’t just put it in your pocket.  Keep it in your passport or wallet. Even better, take a picture of it so you have a record in case the airline loses your luggage. If you snap a pic of the whole tag, you will have it.

Track your Bag on your Airline App

You can track you checked luggage on many airline apps or you can use a luggage tracker. This is the reason I don’t have an external luggage tracker, but I usually do check my bag on the app. Since I hardly ever check a bag, my paranoia kicks in and I check the airline app a couple of times. You can easily see when your bag has been loaded and unloaded onto the aircraft and if your bag is at the correct airport. 

Talk to Airline Agents

If you have a quick connection layover or a delay, tell the airline gate agent when getting on your second flight before boarding that you have/had a checked bag on your earlier flight so they can make sure it is loaded.  

Great!  You have now done everything you can to prevent your bag from being lost. But things happen and travel is not perfect. So here are the next steps to take if your luggage is lost by the airlines. 

What to do When You Arrive and the Airline Loses Your Luggage

What to do When an Airline Loses Your Luggage

Immediately Go to the Lost Luggage Desk 

As soon as you realize you bag is not there, IMMEDIATELY go to the desk for your airline’s lost luggage at the airport.  Bonus points if you already made sure to know the desk to go to before arriving. You want to be one of the first to file a report before the people who will take 30 mins complaining and demanding their bag immediately appear get to the desk. 

Be nice 

Trust me, the airline is about as happy as you are that your bag was misplaced.  Now they have to deal with angry people, extra shipping, and extra forms as well as pay money to compensate people for the issue.  So, just be courteous and follow the instructions they give you.  Be polite and you will be treated better and be less stressed in general.  

Fill out the forms with every detail you have:  Remember all the information and details you saved before you left and when checking in you bag?  Now is the time to fill out the form with your bag information, flight information, info on the checked bag tag they gave you and your travel itinerary.  

Get Phone Numbers for Help 

Open up the airline app and check the location of your bag. Also, you can call you airline’s lost luggage line to get information on where your bag is and when it can be expected.  They may also be able to give you the phone number of the local company actually getting your bag to you once it gets there so you can communicate with them. 

Be Patient and Go Shopping

The airline will reimburse you for what you buy while waiting for your bag but this does not mean go on an expensive shopping spree.  The airline may not approve reimbursements it deems unnecessary.  Pick up some clothes and toiletries you need while waiting for your bag.  Obviously if your bag is completely lost, you will need to buy more.

Keep All Receipts

Keep all the receipts from anything you buy because you will not be reimbursed without them.  Take pictures of them as a back up.

File Your Report

There will be a form for claiming reimbursement provided by your airline.  Fill out the firm with precision and attach each receipt.  If the bag is lost, go through the picture you took of what you packed, list every item lost, and attach a copy of the picture.  I submitted my report in PDF format with a scan of each receipt with an exhibit number and label of what the receipt was for attached.  THIS REIMBURSEMENT REPORT IS TIME SENSITIVE.  There is generally a time limit of 30 days or so to submit your request for reimbursement.  Check with the airline you are flying with to find out what their time limits are! It could be a short time from the date of loss and you don’t want to miss the deadline.  

You should be reimbursed in a timely manner for either what you bought while waiting for your bag or the contents of your lost bag if you give them everything organized, labeled and with photo/scanned evidence proving your costs or loss.  Keep a copy of the report you file and your receipts in case of any questions or delay in payment.  

Travel Insurance for Baggage Delays & Lost Luggage

 Travel insurance can reimburse you for reasonable essential items up to the specific policy’s limit until your baggage arrives. So if your bag arrives but you still had to buy stuff, you can file a claim thru your travel insurance company. One reason why I buy an Annual Plan with Allianz is so I can have such situations covered. Whether lost, delayed or stolen, Allianz has my back when dealing with the airlines does not go as smoothly as this time. They also have a great app that makes life super easy if things go wrong. You can file your claim directly from your mobile device and get sorted that way. In my experience, it’s usually much easier to deal with my travel insurance than with the airlines directly.

In the end, American Airlines was very helpful with finding and returning my lost luggage.  The bag was delivered to my hotel on the second day of my trip and I was reimbursed for two outfits and few items I purchased to get me through the three days without my bag.  They even appreciated and thanked me for being nice and organized because it helped them help me and resolve the issue without much stress. 

I don’t like checking a bag and only do it when circumstances require (like bringing extra things for friends, charity, or extra equipment I might need). Having luggage lost by the airlines is a pain but manageable. In this case, it all worked out because I was prepared for the worst case scenario. 

Disclaimer: I work as an ambassador for Allianz Global Assistance (AGA Service Company) and receive financial compensation. I exclusively use their travel insurance because of the quality of their services.

  1. Reply


    July 12, 2019

    Thanks for the info on losing a bag. We hardly ever check bags. I am glad you went through the process of how to resolve the issue if a bag is lost. Thanks!

    • Reply


      July 20, 2019

      Thanks Wendy!

  2. Reply

    Carol Miller

    July 17, 2019

    Just an FYI: I would love to fly with a carryon only. But I’m a short, single woman and can’t even reach the bins above. The airline personnel will not help anymore. I know there are probably some strong men who would help, but finding one delays the boarding process.

    • Reply


      July 20, 2019

      That’s a tough one and I sympathize
      I would try letting the cabin crew ASAP as soon as you board that you will need assistance. Hopefully they will help you!

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Angel Castellanos
Pasadena, CA

I'm a US based travel expert and spend my time teaching people how to travel well, smart and often. I'm passionate about travel and helping people save time & money. This blog, or travel lounge, is a collection of my practical travel advice and experiences from traveling 12-14 weeks internationally each year. I believe that travel has never been easier and that everyone can achieve their travel dreams. Happy Travels!

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