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What to do if your luggage is lost on holiday? Your rights explained

 (Phil Noble / Reuters)
(Phil Noble / Reuters)

It’s every traveller’s worst nightmare: you arrive at your destination, only to discover the baggage handler and airline have lost your luggage.

But, on the upside, the risk of losing your luggage seems to be decreasing more and more over time. In 2022, around 26 million pieces of luggage were lost, delayed, or damaged — nearly eight bags in every 1,000.

But new data shows that the situation is improving as passenger numbers return to pre-pandemic levels, according to the BBC.

Sita, which handles IT systems for 90 per cent of airlines, says this is due to more airport staff and automation technology.

But what can you do if you still find yourself a victim of a lost suitcase?

As a paying passenger, you have the legal right to claim compensation from the airline if your checked-in luggage is delayed, lost, or damaged.

You only have the right to claim for a problem with cabin baggage if it’s the airline’s fault.

Here’s everything you need to know.

What to do if your luggage is lost

Luggage is not considered lost until 21 days after your flight. If your airline has not found it and got it back to you in that timeframe, you can claim for lost luggage.

You should claim as soon as possible after the items are officially lost, writing to the airline within seven days after it is officially deemed missing.

If there is a problem with cabin baggage, and it’s the airline’s fault, then you can also make a claim.

Ask the airline what documents you’ll need — they’d usually expect you to have:

  • Boarding card

  • Luggage labels (these have a barcode and number to identify your luggage)

  • Proof you reported the problem, eg your PIR form or email from the airline

  • Receipts for things you had to buy because of a delay

  • Proof of purchase for lost or damaged things, eg receipts or credit card statements

  • Photos of any damage to your luggage or contents

  • Cost estimates for any repairs you’re claiming for, eg from a luggage-repair business

What to do if your checked-in bag is delayed

If your checked-in bags are delayed, again, you need to make the claim to your airline as soon as possible. Representatives for your carrier should then be able to assist if you are still at the airport.

Alternatively, most airlines now have an online portal, where customers can report delayed or missing luggage.

Another option is to fill out a “property irregularity report” (PIR) at the airport, which is a form that’s handed out by customer services in the baggage claim area. The form will ask you to describe your luggage, as well as list where you are staying.

The normal deadline for claiming delayed luggage is 21 hours after the flight, but this depends on the carrier. Once you’ve reported the delay, you can check the status with the relevant handlers.

Airlines should provide compensation to cover essentials, such as toiletries and underwear — you must keep receipts for replacement as proof of your claim.

If you need to collect your luggage when it has been returned, you may also be able to claim back your travel costs, if you’ve kept the receipts. If the luggage is delayed on a return flight, airlines often consider this less of a loss — and some carriers have a daily expense rate for lost luggage.

How to make a claim

The maximum limit of an airline’s liability for checked-in luggage is approximately £1,200.

Your airline should advise on what documents you need to submit to make a claim, but it’s likely to include your boarding card, luggage labels, receipts for anything you had to purchase due to the delay, proof of purchase of damaged items, photos of the damaged items, photos of the damage, and cost estimates for replacing it.

It is standard practice to claim in writing to the airline, or using a claim form from the airline’s customer services department.

In your letter, say you’re “claiming compensation under the Montreal Convention” — this will show the airline that you know your rights. Also make sure your letter includes:

  • Details of your flight — dates, flight number, departure, and destination

  • What happened to your luggage

  • How much money you’re asking for

  • A detailed description of everything that’s damaged or lost

  • A list of everything you had to buy because of a delay

  • Copies of all the documents you need

Keep a copy of your claim and original documents — you’ll need these if you’re not happy with the airline’s response and you want to take your claim further.

What to do if your response goes unanswered

If your airline does not respond, or you are not satisfied with their response, complain to the Civil Aviation Authority, asking them to take it up with the airline.

You could also make a claim in the small claims court.