One of the busiest travel seasons is right around the corner. As airports around the world become flooded with travellers and luggage, it’s natural for passengers to be anxious about the security of their baggage.
Fortunately, airlines today are 70 percent less likely to lose luggage than they were 10 years ago, according to a report by SITA. Now, only around 5.73 bags are lost for every thousand passengers.
That’s great news—but considering that there were 3.77 billion passengers in 2016, that still amounts to more than five million lost bags.
So, what if your luggage is among the unfortunate 0.00573 percent that goes missing?
We know that losing your luggage can be a very stressful experience. Plus, dealing with airline bureaucracy can make you feel like you’re coming up against a wall.
That’s why we’ve compiled some tips on what to do when an airline loses your luggage or places it on the wrong flight. Feel free to bookmark this article for easy reference in the event (fingers crossed) that the unfortunate happens.
First off, know your rights
The Montreal Convention stipulates that “in the case of destruction, loss, damage or delay with respect to baggage”, the carrier (i.e., the airline) must pay up to 1,131 Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) per passenger.
An SDR is an international reserve asset created by the International Monetary Fund. It’s not a currency, but it does have an equivalent value in dollars. As of 1 November 2018, 1 SDR is equivalent to SG$1.91.
Under the Convention, luggage is considered lost if it still hasn’t arrived 21 days after the date it should have done so, or if the airline admits the loss.
Keep in mind, though, that the Montreal Convention applies only if the country of destination is a signatory. See this list of the 133 countries that have ratified the Convention.
In addition, airlines and airports are required by the International Air Transport Association to track whether or not your luggage has been loaded to the aircraft.
So when you’re told they don’t know for sure if your bag was on the flight, you can assert your right to know and their responsibility to track it.
Report your missing luggage ASAP
Once you realize your luggage is missing, notify the airline right away. Find an airline staff near the luggage claim area, at the transit counter, or at the reservation desk. Do not leave the airport without having filed a written complaint.
The airline staff should provide you with a Property Irregularity Report that you’ll use to record the luggage details. These include your name, contact details date and time of flight, flight number and the final destination.
The bag tag that you received at check-in will also prove handy, as it comes with a barcode with an identification number that will be used to help track your luggage.
Make a detailed claim for compensation
If the airline declares your luggage lost, or if 21 days have passed by after your flight and your bags still haven’t been found, it’s time to file a claim.
Fill out a claim form and make a detailed list of what was in the bag, along with each item’s value. Make sure the value is accurate, as airlines turn a sharp eye on these lists to find bloated value claims.
A claim may take months to process, depending on factors such as peak travel seasons, the airline’s policies, and the destination country’s laws and consumer protection codes.
Ask for a refund for check-in baggage fee
Know that you have the right to claim a check-in fee refund, especially if your luggage wasn’t placed on the flight in the first place. The airline should at least compensate you for this since your bag did not arrive at the destination.
Get reimbursed for “reasonable expenses” while you wait
If your luggage is lost, you’ll have to buy some essentials while waiting for the airline to find it. Keep the receipts, as the airline is required to reimburse you for these purchases.
At the very least, you’ll need to get toiletries and some clothes. But the definition of a ‘reasonable expense’ can sometimes vary and may be disputed. Say you’re attending a destination wedding. If your lost luggage had your tux or evening dress in it, you’ll have to buy a replacement.
See if your credit card issuer can help
If you bought the airline tickets with a credit card, the issuer might have a travel rewards program that helps tide you over while you wait for your luggage to be found.
In such cases, the card company will reimburse you for items you bought, such as toiletries and clothes, as a result of delayed or lost luggage.
Follow up frequently
Get a reference or document number for your claim. You can use this when speaking to customer service personnel over the phone or for tracking your claim online.
Singapore Airlines, for instance, requires a file reference number for using their online baggage tracer system.
This is probably one of the worst times to be told to have patience—but the reality is, you have a lot of waiting to do. It could take the airline weeks to determine your baggage has been lost, and even more time to compensate you.
If you’re travelling for a family holiday or a romantic getaway, try to ease your stress by focusing on the vacation and the good company you’re with.
When all else fails, seek help
If you can’t resolve the dispute with the airline, seek help from groups such as the Consumers Association of Singapore. In the worst case scenario, you may have to undertake legal settlement.
Some countries also have consumer protection codes to help out passengers. These codes, such as the Malaysian Aviation Consumer Protection Code 2016, promise passengers assistance if they feel they haven’t received fair compensation or their case is being handled poorly.
Of course, it’s always better to prevent luggage loss from happening in the first place. What the airport and airlines do is beyond your control. You can, however, protect yourself by taking out travel insurance before you go on your trip.
Whether or not you’re a frequent traveller, it’s important to understand how travel insurance covers lost luggage. Not all travel insurance policies are the same, so make sure you read the fine print before committing to one. Find out, for instance, about the travel insurance provider’s claims process and compensation time, as well as the limitations of coverage for lost baggage.
Try to have some essentials in your carry-on bag as well.
After all, the upcoming season is often called the most wonderful time of the year. Enjoy it as much as you can by making sure your vacation will be stress-free and memorable—for all the right reasons.