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What happens when an airline loses your luggage?

You’re entitled to a limited amount of compensation if an airline loses your luggage, but you could claim more if you have travel insurance in place.

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Lost luggage is the last thing you want to happen when you arrive at your dream holiday destination. But, there are some things you can do to increase your chances of finding your belongings, or receiving compensation for a complete loss.

What to do if an airline loses your luggage

Lost luggage is the second most common travel mishap Aussies have to deal with, according to a survey by Finder. Here's how to deal with it:

Step 1: File a report before you leave the airport

If you fear the worst while you're waiting for your luggage to turn up on the carousel, you'll need to register with baggage services as soon as possible. Here, you'll be asked to put together a Property Irregularity Report (PIR). This will help the airline to locate your lost luggage, but is also essential if you need to make a claim later down the line.

This usually includes the following information:

  • What your bag looks like. It's always a good idea to take a picture of your bag before you apply to help staff locate it amongst the many. If you haven't done this, you should include as much information as possible including the colour, brand and any identifying marks on your luggage.
  • Airline and flight information. This includes where you've flown from, any connecting flights you may have taken and flight numbers.
  • Onward travel. For the purpose of contacting or delivering your lost luggage, you'll need to provide details about where you're staying and for how long.

Good to know. It's important to make a report even if the airline tells you your luggage is on the next flight. This was you'll have written proof just in case something else goes wrong.

Step 2: Work out your rights and who is responsible

Lost checked baggage is treated as delayed by the airline for the first 21 days. In that time, it is the airline's responsibility to locate it and deliver it to you.

If the airline can't locate it in that time, you'll receive compensation for your loss. Rules differ slightly depending on where you're travelling within Australia or not.

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Domestic travel within Australia

Airlines must compensate you for lost luggage under the Civil Aviation (Carriers' Liability) Act 1959 or complementary state legislation. Airline liability for loss or damage is limited to $1,600 per passenger for checked luggage and $160 per passenger for your carry-on.

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International travel

Airlines are governed by two international treaties: the Warsaw Convention of 1929 and the Montreal Convention of 1999:

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 $1,735. That's the total amount you could receive for both checked and carry-on baggage.

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 or 5,000 francs (about AUD$600) for your carry-on baggage.

Good to know. If you're travelling with something worth more than the airline's liability limit, you do have the option to declare a higher value for your luggage and items when you check your bags at the airport. The airline will usually provide you with a higher coverage amount for a fee.

Step 3: Follow up with the airline

Once you've left the airport, the only thing you can do is hope that your lost luggage will turn up. Some airlines will give you a tracking number that you can use to keep an eye on any progress online. With others, you may need to make a few phone calls to check up on your lost luggage.

Best case scenario, you'll find out that your luggage has been held up and your airline should make arrangements to get your belongings back to you as soon as possible. Most airlines will organise a courier to deliver your luggage to your accommodation.

Good to know. If your bags don't turn up within 12 hours of your arrival, you can make a claim to your travel insurance for luggage delays. This will help cover the cost of essentials that you had to buy because of the delay including clothes and toiletries.

Step 4: Wait 21 days before making a claim

When it comes to making a claim for lost luggage, there are two points of call:

1. Airline. Most airlines officially consider your luggage as lost when it has been missing for 21 days for both domestic and international flights. Once these three weeks have passed, you can make your claim to the airline. This doesn't take too long, and usually involve filling in a claims form on your airline's website.

2. Travel insurance. Airlines tend to only cover what is legally expected of them; usually up to $1,600 for your checked luggage. If there's a shortfall between what the airline pays you and your belgonging's worth, you can lodge a claim for the difference with your travel insurance.

Top tip. If you're travelling with expensive items like a laptop, jewellery or camera, you need to make sure your coverage limits are high enough to fully reimburse you if they're lost with your luggage. Alternatively, you can take out individual cover for each item.

Get covered for your luggage with travel insurance

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Questions you still might have about lost luggage

What happens to lost luggage at airports?

Airlines usually give themselves a maximum of 90-days to find the owner of lost luggage before auctioning it off to the highest bidder or donating the contents to charity.

How much money do you get for lost luggage?

For domestic travel in Australia, passengers are entitled to $1,600 per passenger for checked luggage or $160 per person for carry-on luggage. That's not including any pay-outs you might receive from your travel insurance.

Do airports sell lost luggage?

If an airline can't locate the owner of a piece of lost luggage after 90-days of trying, the bags are usually sold on or donated to charity.

How long does it take to get your lost luggage back?

It normally takes 2 or 3 days to be reunited with your lost luggage. However, if you've been waiting more than 21 days, your luggage is officially declared as lost and you should be compensated by the airline.

Can I track lost luggage?

Most airlines will give you a tracking number that allows you to check on the status of your lost luggage. Some passengers choose to take matters into their own hands and put a tracking device inside their luggage just in case it is misplaced.

Can you sue an airline for lost luggage?

When it comes to lost luggage, both the passengers' and airlines' rights and responsibilities are outlined in the Warsaw and Montreal Conventions. Unless an airline has acted against this legislation, it may prove difficult to sue them.

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