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What Are Airlines’ Responsibilities for Lost or Delayed Baggage?

Dear Jessica,

What are airlines’ responsibilities for lost or delayed baggage?


Dear Reader,

Lost, delayed, and damaged bags have always been a concern for flyers. Since August, when the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) [%1623760 | | restrictions on liquids and gels %] in carry-on bags went into effect, more travelers are choosing to check bags than ever before—leading to more mishandled bags at airports across the U.S. The holiday travel season will lead to even more passengers checking bags, so you have good reason to be concerned about airlines’ responsibilities.

Airlines limit the amount you can be reimbursed to $2,800 per passenger for domestic flights and $635 per bag on international flights. Expensive items such as jewelry or computers, cameras, and other electronics may not be covered, so you should always pack anything of monetary or sentimental value in your carry-on.

If your checked bags are worth more than $2,800, you might consider purchasing supplemental “excess valuation” insurance that will cover your bags over the legal maximum. You can find information on the extra insurance in the baggage information section of your airline’s website.

Reimbursement for damaged baggage is trickier, however. Airlines won’t take responsibility for damage caused by TSA inspections, and the TSA isn’t exactly eager to offer reimbursements either. If you notice your bag is damaged, tell an agent at your airline’s baggage service desk, but don’t expect much in return. To contact the TSA about damage from an inspection, call 866-289-9673.

Specifics of baggage policies vary by airline, but in general, most U.S. airlines attempt to return delayed bags on domestic flights within 24 hours. Some airlines will deliver bags to your home or hotel, while others will merely leave your bags at the airport. Before you accept a delivery, ask if the airline will charge you for it. Delayed bags may take longer for international flights due to customs or immigration procedures and frequency of flights.

If your bag doesn’t show up at the baggage carousel, fill out a claim form at your airline’s baggage service desk located in the baggage claim area. Be sure you have the baggage-claim tags the desk agent gave you with your boarding pass at check-in, which will make it easier to locate your bags electronically. Ask about the airline’s policy on reimbursements for purchasing necessary toiletries and clothing, and save receipts for anything you buy.

Before you fly, snap a few photos of your checked bags, or at least take note of the color, brand, and size of your bags. If your bags are delayed or lost, you’ll have an easier time filling out a claim form that asks you to describe your bags. You should also make a mental list (or one on paper) of everything you’ve packed, so if your bags are lost for good you’ll have an easier time of estimating the value of what was lost.

From personal experience (twice, my bags were lost for several days in Europe), I suggest packing an extra change of clothes and essential toiletries ([%1623760 | | three ounces or less, of course %]) in your carry-on bags. While more often than not your bags will be returned quickly, it’s comforting to have at least a fresh outfit and your toothbrush when you arrive at your destination.

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