What Happens When Your Airline Loses Your Luggage?

Pizza-in-chief note.  This is a guest post by a good friend of mine, Nathan.  The airlines recently lost his suitcase and he reached out to me about constructing a post to help readers understand what to do when this happens to you.  Nathan has been actively involved in the Dahl Fund since its inception.  The Dahl Fund is committed to providing scholarships for aspiring young pilots.  It was started and continues to be organized by family, friends and colleagues of Jason Dahl, an experienced pilot who lost his life protecting the crew of Flight 93 on September 11, 2001.  The Dahl Fund is accepting donations for scholarships and appreciates every contribution.

So you have arrived at your destination, wait at the baggage claim for your bag, and lo and behold it doesn’t arrive.  If you’re at your home airport when this happens it is more of a nuisance, but when you are away from home on a business trip or a vacation it can be downright annoying and inconvenient.  I have friends who say “checked luggage equals lost luggage,”  but sometimes you just don’t have the option to go carry-on only.

I was on a very short work trip recently trip to Tel Aviv, Israel (TLV).  I had flown United Airlines to Zurich and then SWISS Air to TLV.  I arrived at TLV and was met by my ground assistant (it’s a VIP service that is well worth it in TLV, more on this later).  I was quickly through immigration and passport control, and at baggage claim waiting for my bag.  After about 20 minutes waiting and watching all the bags going around and around, we realized that my bag wasn’t coming.  So, it’s off to the baggage services to file a missing bag report.

At most airports each airline or airline group has their own baggage services counter where you go to file your report for missing baggage.  However, in TLV and some other countries the baggage services are handled by a third-party vendor.

We arrived at the counter to file the claim.  This is where my ground assistant came in very handy.  They both work for the same company that does the ground handling for SWISS.  My assistant was able to very quickly communicate with the other agent in Hebrew.  While I can speak Hebrew, he was much better at explaining the situation.  Plus the agent’s English wasn’t very good.  Eventually, we got the form that we had to fill out to make the claim.

Mostly what was required was my bag tag (don’t lose these) and my boarding pass.  My bag tag was a United bag tag, meaning it was issued by United, but SWISS is the airline that is responsible for processing the claim.  Regardless of who you bought your ticket from or who actually lost your bag, you have to file the claim with the airline you just got off of.  It doesn’t matter if you started on another airline.  The other information that they wanted is a description of the bag.  Their descriptions are pretty basic but they help them with identifying the bag.  Also if you have any other information regarding your bag that they can add to the comments section you can give them that (a photo of the bag, lock code, or its serial number that some manufactures put on their bags), and it will be entered into the record as well.

Lost luggage
Lost luggage

Seeing as this was an international flight and needing to clear customs you also have to fill a report for customs that authorizes them to clear customs as your agent, but also serves as your declaration as to what is in the bag.  I had to fill out this form which was really quite painful as they wanted to know about everything in the bag and as well as if you had certain items.  Once this was done a quick copy was made for the ground services to have for their records.  The original is given to customs as you leave.   They also gave me a printout of the lost baggage report, which contains a record number.  Keep this number safe, it is extremely important.

As the earliest I was going to get my bag was the next day, I was also given an overnight kit.  This was the Star Alliance overnight kit given for passengers whose luggage is lost or delayed.  I really didn’t need the kit, but it was at least a nice gesture.  Had my bag been delayed significantly longer it would have been a great help.  There are two bags, one for men and one for women.  I got the men’s bag so have no idea what is really different between the two.  The contents, while basic, are useful.  The contents were: toothbrush, toothpaste, hairbrush with a mirror, razor, shaving cream, deodorant, shampoo, cotton swabs, laundry detergent, and a t-shirt.  There was an apology note as well.  It would be enough for a person to at least handle a day or two without their bag and not be super smelly.

Lost luggage

As I left the customs area I handed the form to the officer and was on my way to my hotel.

Upon arriving at the hotel, I checked in and also let them know that I had a lost bag.  This is something you should do if you have a lost bag as well.  Your hotel will assist with the communications issues related to your bag so you don’t have to worry about the calling and such, and in certain instances they will become an advocate for you as well.  All the hotel needed from me is the lost baggage report, which they made a copy of as well, and gave me back the original.

Now in most cases all you have to do at this point is wait, often times there is nothing more you can do from this point to help.  Most airlines provide a way for you to track your bag online.  The site that SWISS and other’s use is http://www.staralliance.com/en/services/baggage-tracing  that will give you the status of the bag.

Also, many airlines have baggage numbers for their members who are flying business, first or have status.  This number can be handy as well as you can often get to an agent relatively quickly to ask a question or find out other information that isn’t in the system.  Even though SWISS was the responsible carrier for the lost bag, I called the premium number for United.  The reason I did this was I wanted to get an idea where the bag may be so I could plan accordingly.  United and many other airlines scan (Southwest doesn’t) each bag as it comes on and off the plane and therefore I wanted to know where the last scan was.  I got an extremely good agent who told me that the bag was scanned off my flight from LAX in Newark, but didn’t go further for some reason.   The United agent made a call to the baggage folks in EWR and after a little while had my bag located and tagged for the next flight to TLV.  With this information I now knew when the bag would be showing up, and could plan accordingly.

I actually think in this instance calling helped, because of the double connection on this itinerary.  SWISS was still looking for the bag in Zurich, while I had found it already in EWR.  This is an issue where you have multiple connections that cross airlines, even within an alliance, they often don’t know where the point of misconnect is and won’t look for the bag at multiple locations at once.  It probably would have been 2 days before SWISS asked United to look for the bag in EWR because the assumption would be that the bag made it to Zurich.

Another thing is that many airlines provide assistance if you are away from home and the bag is delayed.  SWISS for example provides $100 for coach passengers and $200 for business class passengers in the event a bag is delayed.  This is helpful if you have a business meeting and need to get some stuff right away.  It’s a buy and bill back program, but it at least minimizes some pain if you have to buy something and the bag is later found.  Singapore Airlines is another airline that handles this well.  They handed me cash as I got off the plane when they didn’t board my bag on the flight, and proactively realized this.

Eventually, the bag made it to TLV a day later.  The next issue was that the bag arrived on Saturday and the delivery service was closed for Saturday and doesn’t deliver then and wouldn’t until sometime on Sunday.  After a brief call from my hotel, they were able to “arrange” for the bag to be delivered on Saturday, which in reality turned out to be Sunday anyway.

All in all the biggest inconvenience with this was not being able to do the work I planned to do on Saturday as some of my equipment was in my checked bag.

I fly over 100,000 miles a year (over the past 15 years) and check a bag on about half my flights and I have only had a delayed bag 3 times.  I’ve never had a lost bag.  The airline has always found it and gotten it to me in a couple of days.  It does surprise me that it doesn’t happen more frequently than it does.

Now for some tips and things that I have learned on this last experience.

1)      Remain calm – there is nothing you can do and getting mad won’t help the matter.  It sounds like common sense, but….

2)      Keep your baggage tags safe.  If you are checking multiple bags know which bag is associated with which baggage tag.   I find taking a photo of each bag helps with the bag tag.  With camera phones it’s not that hard and you can delete the photo later.

3)      You may have baggage insurance from your credit card if you bought the ticket with that card.  However, this insurance may be secondary and not primary.  With American Express Platinum they will cover you, but you still need to file the claim with your homeowner’s or renters insurance.  AMEX basically covers your deductible.

4)      Make sure your contact information is on the inside of your bag as well as the outside of the bag.  In the event that your baggage tag falls off, your bag will eventually be opened.  If you have contact information in there they will try to call/contact you.

There you have it, folks.  Hope this was helpful for my readers in the future.  I certainly hope you never lose a bag.  But, if you do, it pays to be prepared.

The post What Happens When Your Airline Loses Your Luggage? was published first on Pizza In Motion.

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