How to track down your lost luggage

5 minute read

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Learn how to dodge notorious luggage-losing culprits, trace delayed baggage and navigate your way around a successful claim with these expert tips. 

  • Millions of bags are mishandled or lost each year
  • UK airlines allow 21 days to track your bag before deciding it’s lost
  • Switching airlines could mean your luggage is more likely to be lost

There are a few theories about what happens to lost airline luggage. One of the more popular suggestions is that the rings of Saturn are made up of lost luggage – but in reality, the amount of permanently missing luggage is pretty small. For peace of mind, though, it’s worth making sure you’re covered by travel insurance

Is my luggage missing? 

‘It is extremely rare for luggage to go permanently missing as security tracking is pretty efficient. In most instances it turns up within 48 hours,’ says Travel Counsellor’s (@TCworldwide) former travel expert Cathie Odea.

What do I do if my luggage doesn’t turn up?

1. Go straight to the airline’s desk and they will advise of the procedure to follow

2. If possible, get a copy of the Property Irregularity Report (PIR) that’s used by airline staff to record the details, as it will help

3. You’ll need your original PNR (booking reference) which is usually six digits and the baggage tag number (usually stuck onto the boarding pass) to start the tracking process

4. As well as personal and flight details, you’ll need to give an accurate description of a missing bag (it helps if you have a photo)

5. If your luggage turns up a day or two later, it’s up to the airline to courier it to you – you can track it using the airline’s tracking service

6. If your bag doesn’t turn up, you’ll need to write to the airline, enclosing a copy of the PIR, within seven days of the flight

7. If there’s no sign of it after three weeks, the bag will be declared lost and you can claim for it as such

When can I claim on lost luggage?

UK airlines allow 21 days to track your bag, before deciding it won’t be found. After the 21-day period you can claim compensation.

Airlines are also liable if your luggage gets lost or delayed in transit, though there are no hard and fast rules over the amount of compensation you will receive. The Montreal Convention makes airlines responsible for the bags they allow you to check in, although their liability is limited to around £1,113 per passenger.

If you have to buy essentials because your baggage is delayed, such as clothing and toiletries, keep your receipts as this is what you’ll be able to claim on.

On a connecting flight and don’t know which airline lost your luggage? Don’t worry: you can claim with either of them. If your luggage is damaged, make sure you report it immediately at the airport. 

How do airlines and airports track luggage?

Ryanair (@Ryanair) has a good track record with luggage. According to a spokesperson, they ‘mishandle fewer bags than any other airline, and receive fewer bag complaints (less than one per 3,000 customers).

‘Like most airlines, Ryanair uses SITA’s WorldTracer software to locate the missing bag,’ added the spokesperson.

WorldTracer is an international baggage location system used in 2,000 airports and by 360 companies. It enables airlines to locate lost baggage by tracing an electronic tag that is placed on your luggage when checked in. 

Tracking technology is improving

The adoption of RFID (radio waves to read and capture information stored on a tag) in the next two years, as well as remote check-ins and real-time notifications, will improve luggage tracking.

Remote check-ins have been trialled successfully at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, allowing people to have their bags picked up from their homes in advance of their flight. So, when they get to the airport, their hold luggage is already checked in and boarded.

Real-time notifications, meanwhile, let passengers track their luggage onto the plane and off using a mobile phone app.

In June 2018 the Air Transport Association (IATA) Resolution 753 came into effect, meaning all bags are now tracked throughout their journey and not just at departure and arrival. 

How can you minimise the risk of lost luggage?

Do not check in last minute and, when possible, fly direct.

‘Luggage can get delayed when there is a short connection, when you’ve already checked in and there’s a change of aircraft, when there’s a flight delay with a connection and when there’s an error by the baggage handlers and a whole batch has ended up on the wrong flight,’ says Cathie.

‘Avoid very short connections if possible. Ideally, allow two hours minimum in the case of delays or take hand luggage only – on some airlines the allowance is quite generous. It is almost impossible to avoid the other scenarios.’

Take photos of both your luggage and your tags when boarding and make sure you put your name, city and phone number of your bag. Or get a bag that stands out – it’s less likely to be accidently taken. 

‘I normally write the PNR reference on luggage labels too,’ says Cathie.

Beware of codeshares (commercial agreements between airlines, which share networks and routes, to keep fares down). For example – your flight might be booked through BA, but you end up flying with its alliance partner, Iberia.

‘It often makes it more difficult to book seats. I always check what the actual flight number is with the host airline,’ says Cathie. 

You could also use something like a Tile Pro Bluetooth tracker to track items while travelling. 

Don’t worry 

The chances are your luggage won’t end up orbiting Saturn and will turn up a few days after disappearing. In the meantime, know your rights and make sure you capture and keep all the evidence at your disposal.

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