It’s the last thing you want to happen on holiday. You stand at the luggage carousel at the airport, wait as everyone else picks up their bags, but yours don't appear. Whether it happens at the start of your trip or the end, lost luggage can be a huge inconvenience that costs you time, money and a lot of stress. Thankfully, you’re entitled to claim compensation for any bags that are lost, delayed or damaged – but it pays to know exactly what the claims process is.
Report your baggage
If you notice a missing or damaged bag, your first step should always be to report it to the airline immediately. If you’re arriving at a foreign airport, it might be difficult to spot a member of staff from the airline you flew in with, but you should be able to get help from the customer service desk in the reclaim hall.
The sooner you report the baggage problem, the more chance you’ve got of getting compensation – and the more likely you are to be reunited with your missing luggage if it’s already on its way to another destination. Most airlines are quite used to dealing with lost luggage problems and will be happy to help you with a baggage claim, but getting some smaller airlines to accept responsibility can sometimes be a challenge, so it’s important to report it before you leave the airport.
Fill in the form
When you report a missing or damaged bag, you should be given a copy of the Property Irregularity Report (PIR) to fill out (this will help you with your baggage claim). If you’re not given one, ask for one – as the whole process of reclaiming your damaged or lost baggage will be much trickier without the proper paperwork. The form will ask you to list any damage to bags that did turn up, and any distinguishing features of bags that didn’t. It’s always a good idea to keep a photo of your suitcases saved somewhere in case this happens, as most luggage tends to look quite similar – and looking for your name tag on hundreds of identical bags can take a very long time.
Always keep a copy of the PIR after you’ve filled it out too, as it could come in handy for dealing with any disputes, such as claiming for compensation.
Know your rights
After you’ve reported the problem, you’ll probably start worrying about how you’re going to enjoy your holiday without any clothes or toiletries. Luckily, the airline is obliged to cover the costs of any “essential” items. What this actually means, however, is interpreted differently by different airlines and it might be difficult to claim more than a toothbrush and a pair of knickers out of some ground crew. Most airlines will be more helpful though – and most will be able to recover any lost luggage fairly quickly.
If you’re making a baggage claim with the airline, any compensation will be limited to part of the cost of replacing and repairing your luggage and its contents – but with quite a few exceptions. Claiming for anything that you haven’t got a receipt for can be problematic, and airlines will often not pay out for ‘new for old’ replacements of anything, or for anything valuable or fragile that you were traveling with.
The total lost luggage compensation you are likely to receive from the airline will not normally be more than £1,000, and it’s usually “a lot less”, according to Citizen’s Advice.
Stick to the rules on missing or damaged luggage
If your luggage goes missing, the airline has to get it back to within 21 days before it’s officially lost. Damaged luggage has to be reported within seven days of you getting it back, and missing or delayed luggage within 21 days of the flight.
Make sure you double check what documents you need to make a claim when you report your baggage missing – but most airlines will ask for your boarding card, your luggage label receipts (often attached to your card when you check-in), your PIR, cost estimates and any receipts of anything you’re claiming for.
If the airline doesn’t have an official baggage claim form (most do), you should write a letter to the customer service department, and always state that you are “claiming compensation under the Montreal Convention”, to let them know that you’re aware of your rights. Be as clear and detailed as possible in any claim, including your flight details, a list of everything that’s missing or damaged, how much money you’re asking for, and copies of any receipts and documents.
If you’re not happy with the airline’s response, you can take your baggage claim further by registering a complaint with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) , using their online form.