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What happens when your luggage is delayed?

Airline luggage delays are rare but they do happen. This is how to stop an unfortunate delay from ruining your holiday.

In 2016, airlines flew almost 4 million passengers around the globe, according to statistics from The World Bank. That equates to a lot of luggage.

But while airline luggage delays are rare, passenger numbers like this do mean delays can sometimes be unavoidable.

The good news is that you can stop delayed luggage ruining your holiday if you know what to do. Has an airline lost your luggage? Here's what to do.

When is your luggage considered delayed?

According to the Montreal Convention 1999 – an international treaty that governs airline responsibilities in the carriage of passengers, baggage and cargo – a passenger's checked baggage is considered delayed by the airline for the first 21 days.

If it has still not been located after three weeks, it will be treated as lost luggage. Here is what you should do if your luggage is considered lost.

What should you do if your luggage is delayed?

If your bags never make it to the luggage carousel at your destination, the first thing you need to do is complete a Property Irregularity Report (PIR) directly with the airline that flew in on. You'll normally need to go to the baggage services counter at the airport. If you had flights on multiple airlines, you'll need to lodge the PIR with the airline that you last flew on. While it's not mandatory to file one, it will make your life a lot easier if you do. If you're not able to complete one, you'll need to report your delayed luggage to the airline within 7 days.

To improve your chances of getting your luggage back, you need to include as much information about your luggage as possible in the report, including the approximate size, brand, colour, and any identifying marks such as baggage tags or ribbons. (In a perfect world, you'll also have your name and address inside your luggage too).

Your PIR report will have a reference number that you can use to track the status of your luggage once it's been located.

What is the airline's responsibility?

When your luggage is delayed, it is the airline's responsibility to locate it and deliver it to you.

It is also the airline's responsibility to compensate you for buying necessities until you are reunited with your belongings, such as a toothbrush, underwear and socks.

For domestic travel within Australia, airlines are governed by the Civil Aviation (Carriers' Liability) Act 1959. Under this act, airline liability for loss or damage is limited to $1,600 per passenger for checked luggage.

For international travel, airlines are governed by two treaties: the Warsaw Convention of 1929 and the Montreal Convention of 1999. However, for one of the treaties to come into effect, the country of departure and country of final destination must both be members of that treaty.

For most trips, the Montreal Convention will be in place. It covers most countries and in time, the Montreal Convention is expected to apply to almost all air travel.

The Warsaw Convention will generally apply where the Montreal Convention does not, but it is considered less favourable to passengers, especially when it comes to compensation.

For international travel where the Montreal Convention applies, airlines are liable for up to 1,131 Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) per passenger – a form of international money, created by the International Monetary Fund, equivalent to approximately AUD$1,735 in the case of destruction, loss, damage or delay of your luggage.

Under the Warsaw Convention for international travel, airlines are liable for up to 250 francs (about AUD$30) for each kilo of your checked baggage.

It is important to note that these compensation limits are not just for delayed luggage – it is the maximum liability airlines are responsible for in the case of loss, damage or delay of luggage. This means you are unlikely to claim the full amount for delayed luggage.

The airline also has the right to deny a claim if they do not believe it is "essential", for example, designer clothes or shoes. Make sure you keep receipts for everything you buy.

What about travel insurance?

Even though you can claim from an airline in the case of delayed luggage, you should always still invest in travel insurance. Aside from the protection in case of accidents, cancellations and medical emergencies, travel insurance can also reimburse you for expenses if your bags never show up at the carousel.

This is important because the rules governing compensation from an airline are vague. Neither convention specifically states compensation limits for expenses relating to delayed baggage – it is just an overall limit for anything concerning your luggage.

Due to this, compensation from airlines can be very limited and can change from airline to airline. Therefore, it might be easier and better for your wallet to bypass the airline and claim from your travel insurer.

Travel insurance policies will cover you for essentials to tide you over until your bag makes its way back to you, and the limit will be higher than an airline's – they will usually reimburse you for between $200 and $750 for delayed items, depending on the policy.

However, there are some conditions you need to be aware of. You will only be able to make a claim if your checked-in bags are delayed considerably - generally over 12 hours (and up to 24 hours for some policies 24 hours).

And just like with airlines, they will only compensate you for items deemed "essential", such as underwear, socks, prescribed medication, t-shirts and toiletries. They will not cover items such as designer clothes, leather jackets or non-essential items that you can live without. To make a claim, you will need proof of purchase, so always keep the receipts for everything you buy.

Receive quotes for travel insurance with cover for luggage delays

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