How Long Does It Take to Find Lost Luggage?

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Even though the chances of your luggage being lost or delayed are less than one percent, it happens to people every day. It could certainly happen to you.

I had my own suitcase delayed two years ago during a 3-week trip to China. Fortunately, it happened on the way back. Eventually, my suitcase was returned in three days with everything intact. And though I was lucky, the process of losing your belongings and tracking them down is still deeply frustrating.

At that time I couldn’t find a good guide on lost luggage, so I decided to research it myself. Questions such as, how long does it take to recover lost luggage? How are you reimbursed if you can’t? and more. Below is a comprehensive guide to what I found.

How Long Does It Take to Find Lost Luggage?

According to a study made by the Association of European Airlines around 85% of lost luggage is found and delivered within two days. However, this number has been decreasing over the years. Now it’s closer to 36 hours. So most likely you’re about to receive your bag in a day or two.

In 46% of the lost luggage cases, they were lost due to mishandling. Sometimes when you’re flying with connections and the layover time is 90 minutes or less, you make it on time, but your luggage doesn’t. If you’re quick about filing your claim and the suitcase is found immediately, you could receive your case in just a few hours.

In other cases, luggage is found after just a few days or even weeks. There are many potential reasons why the waiting time is so long. For instance; the labels could have come off, or they may have been sent to the wrong country, or even stolen by someone at the airport.

But don’t worry. Only 7% of the total lost luggage claims result in the luggage being lost completely. If that’s the case, the suitcase is considered lost only after 14 or 21 days, depending on your airline carrier.

What to Do If Your Luggage Is Lost

To increase your chances of finding your case, here’s what you should do:

  1. If you fail to find your luggage on the conveyer belt upon arrival, immediately go to the luggage office or baggage claim desk. It should be somewhere near the baggage claim, just ask the nearby staff. Make sure to do this before leaving the baggage claim.
  2. When you’re at the desk, try to be understanding. The staff deal with this all the time and you being irritating will make things worse.
  3. Fill out the lost baggage claim, describing the content of the lost baggage and all of its features.
  4. Try to describe your case as best as you can, as this dramatically increases the chances of finding your luggage. In the case that travel tags have been torn off, the only way to identify your case is by its features and content. Thankfully nowadays, the airport systems are pretty advanced. All found luggage is immediately placed in a database. Their software then sorts through the database and locates your suitcase based on the description.
  5. Most likely you will be given instructions on how to check your luggage status online. Make sure to get the responsible department’s number, so later you can contact someone if there isn’t any news.

What to Do If Your Luggage Is Delayed

In this situation, the first step is to get confirmation. As in the case of lost luggage, I’d recommend enquiring at the luggage office/baggage claim desk or, if you can’t find that, go to the nearest help desk for further assistance. You should be able to pick up a Property Irregularity Report (PIR) confirming the luggage delay. Don’t forget this! A PIR may be essential if you want to claim compensation.

In some situations, travelers will have these situations handled by a tour operator/travel agent. Go with what works best for your situation.

Eventually, your luggage will be returned to you. Should you successfully claim compensation, you’ll want an official record of the delay length as this will inform the compensation amount. Make sure you get a second report with these details.

When filing the initial report, make sure to ask the staff what compensation you are entitled to. Many airlines will offer “overnight kits” with amenities including toothbrushes, towels, etc. In some cases they will simply compensate you for any ‘comforts’ you need to buy, so make sure to save your receipts!

What to Do If Your Luggage Is Damaged

Damaged fabric suitcase
Image source: Wikipedia

Maybe you do retrieve your luggage on arrival, but you notice some scuffs or tears that weren’t there previously. Maybe there’s some damage to the frame, wheels, or handles. What’s your next step?

First, you’ll want to take note of the damage done before you take any action. Many airlines don’t provide cover for what might be considered “normal wear and tear”. Aesthetic effects such as marks and stains, scuffed corners, and dents to the frame or wheels will in most cases not be a valid cause for filing a claim. This is regardless of how new or expensive your luggage is.

For significant damage (anything that makes your baggage unfit for travel purposes), every airline is obligated to repair, replace or reimburse your luggage. File a claim at the baggage office, and staff will take matters from there.

Keep in mind this only applies to your luggage case! Airports currently hold no liability for broken or damaged items that are inside. So if you’re bringing home a few fragile souvenirs, make sure they’re packed carefully. Or better yet – keep them in your carry-on instead.

Tip: Get an aluminum suitcase that can easily survive most dents and scratches – it’s cheaper in the long run! Most aluminum suitcases cost a small fortune, especially if they’re made by a reputable brand, such as Tumi or Rimowa. Consider getting one from a lesser brand with positive customer reviews. The one made by Travelking is a really solid option.

What to Do If Your Luggage Is Stolen

Stolen airport luggage is an extremely rare occurrence, but it does happen. In a situation where you believe your luggage is stolen, first take a deep breath. Remember that the simplest explanation is usually the correct one. It’s far likelier that your luggage has been delayed or misplaced. Airlines tend to have efficient, streamlined technology for tracking all passenger luggage, so they will be able to confirm this for you.

In either case, gather as many necessary details as you can. The airline will want your flight and luggage number, departure and arrival times (as well as any layovers), and specific details about the luggage that has been lost or stolen.

In the case that your luggage has been stolen, you should contact both the airline and the nearest local authorities. While it’s not given that the police will find the perp or your belongings, some airlines may only take your claim seriously if you have filed a police report.

Once you’ve filed your report, the ensuing steps and compensation amounts will vary from airline to airline. Unfortunately, many airlines require purchase receipts as evidence of lost items, so be prepared to follow your paper trails if you want full compensation.

How to Get Reimbursed for Lost Luggage

People standing in the check-in line at airport

In the U.S, 87% of travelers do not file a claim when their luggage is either lost, damaged, or stolen. Remember if any of these things have happened to you, you have the legal right to get reimbursement for potential damages.

Now first of all, if you haven’t received your luggage, don’t leave the airport before contacting the airport staff first and filing a claim. Make sure to fill out your PIR in full, carefully stating all of the contents in your bag. When finished, make sure to get a copy as well as your baggage tag number. After filing the claim enquire about an overnight kit.

Next, ask if the airline offers any reimbursements for the costs of necessary essentials. If that’s the case, make sure to ask the maximum that you can spend, and the airline will refund you the total amount. However, be sure to do this in a written format by writing an official complaint about reimbursements for additional expenses due to lost luggage.

If you have a credit card with insurance, get in contact with your bank. Most banks offer some kind of insurance for lost and delayed baggage to their clients.

If your luggage still isn’t found after 21 days, it will officially be declared lost. In this case, you might get a reimbursement of up to 3500$, depending on the country you’ve arrived in.

The Compensation Amounts for Lost, Damaged and Delayed Luggage

If your luggage was delayed or lost, you could be compensated for your losses. Just make sure to file the claim in:

  • Damaged luggage: 7 days;
  • Missing or damaged contents: 7 days;
  • Delayed or lost luggage: 21 days.

The amount of compensation depends on your destination:

  • If you’re flying to Europe, flying from Europe or within Europe, in case of delayed luggage you can get compensation of up to 1300 EUR;
  • If you’re flying domestic, you can get compensation for delayed luggage of up to 3500$.

Other tips about getting reimbursed for lost luggage:

  • Expect to receive less than the maximum reimbursement. Airlines usually know the average value of each case and are hesitant to pay more;
  • You will get compensated only if you have receipts. Even if you had a five-year-old camera in there, you still need the receipt to get the reimbursement. (Although some airlines don’t ask this for smaller, regular items);
  • Even if you have a receipt, airlines won’t compensate for the full value. Rather, they value everything as used. For instance, if you bought a suit for 300$ two days ago, you would get back around 150$;
  • Airlines won’t reimburse for anything valuable, fragile, or perishable.

How to Prevent Losing Luggage in the Future

If you’re concerned about losing luggage in the future, there are a number of precautions you can take to downplay a frustrating situation.

Studies have shown that most commonly luggage is lost due to connecting layovers with short timeframes in between. It makes sense, as during a rush the airline staff often cannot load every case before take-off. So how do you avoid this? When booking layovers, make sure that the gap between your flights is at least 90 minutes.

Late check-ins are another reason for luggage delay. It’s advised to take your bags to check-in at least 90 minutes before departure.

And lastly, one really common reason why luggage is lost is that there are people who like to “collect” the airport stickers/labels on their luggage. It’s really hard for baggage handlers to find the right label if you have ten different ones stuck to your bag, so always make sure to remove the old stickers before checking in.

Here are some other things that you could do to prevent your luggage from getting lost in the future:

  • Use a luggage tag with your name, surname, e-mail, and phone number. Here’s a durable stainless steel luggage tag from Amazon, that won’t fall off while it’s checked in.
  • Secure loose straps and other elements, as this increases the chances of it falling off the conveyor belts.
  • Purchase a bright and unique colored case that stands out and is descriptive. Use a bright luggage cover if you already own a dark-colored suitcase. If you aren’t sure about luggage covers, check out our guide on them over here.
  • Keep your valuables in your carry-on. It decreases the chances of your luggage being stolen.

What Do Airports Do With Lost Luggage?

If your luggage is unclaimed, it will be sold at auction. Though it’s easy to be pessimistic, airlines do a lot to ensure that your luggage is retrieved. Mainly because they’re losing money on lost luggage, due to the reimbursements being higher than the auction prices.

However, they don’t sell it right away. Usually, your suitcase will sit at the terminal for around five days. During this time your bag is checked for any clues of its owner. If no owner is found, it’s shipped to a warehouse where it stays for about 60 days. After that, it’s sold to an auction house.

If you lose your luggage, you can receive up to 3500$ in reimbursements from the responsible airline. Usually, the luggage at auctions is sold for nothing close to this amount, which results in huge losses for airline companies.

What’s more, not all airline companies sell your unclaimed luggage to auction houses. Some of them donate everything to charities, and some sell all of it in bulk to their partners: Companies that later resell each item separately.

Global Statistics About Lost Luggage

According to a SITA study published in 2019, 5.69 bags were lost out of every 1000 passengers in 2018. This percentage has been decreasing yearly, with 18.88 bags lost for every 1000 passengers in 2007. That’s nearly a 70% drop in lost luggage in the last nine years. That said, in the last years, the numbers have plateaued, hovering at around 5.5 bags lost out of every 1000 passengers.

How much does this correlate in dollars? Since 2007 the total passenger count has increased by a third, yet lost luggage has decreased by half. This resulted in savings of $2billion for the luggage industry.

SITA has stated that this decrease in lost luggage is mostly due to new technologies and process improvements by airlines and airports all over the world.

From the total misplaced luggage, around 46% was due to short timeframes between connecting flights. Failure to load the bags comes in second with 16%, followed by airport/customs/weather/space-weight restriction (9%), tagging error (5%), arrival mishandling (5%), loading error (3%), and ticketing error/bag switch/security/other reasons (16%)

Out of all the lost luggage claims, only 7% end up totally lost and never to be seen again. In total, the chances of you losing your luggage completely are around 1 in 2500.

The Worst Airlines for Lost Luggage

Although the chances of you losing luggage are pretty slim, some airlines are much more dependent than others when it comes to losing luggage. If you’re checking your bag, hopefully not at Envoy air, as they’re placed last in a list of twelve popular airlines.

LuggageHero compared the statistics of sixteen popular airlines and the results were spectacular. It seems that some airlines are more than three times likely to lose your bags than others. Some of the worst airlines that are known for losing luggage include Envoy Air, American Airlines, and Republic Airways. However, you can be pretty confident with the top three on this list: Allegiant Air, Southwest Airlines, and Hawaiian Airlines.

Out of the 13 airlines, on average Allegiant Air mishandled 0.15% of the total baggage, which is the best result. On the other end, American Airlines misplaced 0.597% of the total baggage. But if you compare these results to the industry average, which is about 0.4% of the total baggage, even American Airlines is not that far off the industry average.

What’s the takeaway? Out of the sixteen most popular airlines, almost all of them lose less luggage than the industry average. If you’re flying with an unpopular airline, your chances are much slimmer. However, out of those sixteen Airlines, Envoy Air, American Airlines, and Republic Airways performed the worst.

The Worst Airports for Lost Luggage and Baggage Theft

Santorini Thira International Airport, Greece:

Unfortunately, despite its stunning beauty, the airport of this famous island is well known for being a difficult entrance and departure point for travelers. Santorini’s facilities are often thought to be near-unsustainable due to their size and capabilities comparable to the staggering number of tourists who visit throughout the year. Luggage carousels here are frequently chaotic, and as a result, delayed and lost luggage is often reported.

John F Kennedy International Airport, NY, USA:

This airport has long held the record of most thefts in the United States. Thousands of lost and stolen baggage claims have been made over the years, with reports from 2012 stating that the airport sees as many as 200 cases of theft per day. If you’re flying into JFK in the future, don’t forget to implement our prevention tips mentioned above.

Juba International Airport, Sudan:

It may not be your typical travel destination, but just in case you’re thinking of making the trip, it may be worth knowing that Juba International is considered one of the worst airports in the world all around. With a high number of reported complaints regarding facilities (tents are often used in place of terminals) and dangerous infrastructure, it’s no surprise that your luggage may not be the safest at this airport. Juba is certainly an airport you want to travel to armed with an extra overnight bag and your travel insurance.

Heathrow Airport, London, England:

Like New York, London is a thriving metropolis with some of the highest numbers of travelers entering daily in the world. As a result Heathrow, the city’s busiest airport has the highest number of luggage issues and tribulations reported than any other airport in the UK.

These are just a few airports that have a high number of lost or stolen luggage claims and reports. Here are a few more that may be worth researching if you are traveling to these countries:

  • Islamabad Benazir Bhutto International Airport, Pakistan
  • Los Angeles Airport, Los Angeles, USA
  • Caracas Simón Bolívar International Airport, Venezuela
  • Luton International, London, England
  • Madrid-Barajas Adolfo Suárez Airport, Madrid, Spain

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