Imagine you’re traveling on business. After days, maybe even weeks, of preparation and planning, your long awaited trip across the country is finally here. Your plane lands, you disembark and head over to the baggage claim — only to find out that you’re about to experience every traveler’s nightmare: Your luggage is lost.

Everything you brought with you, except the clothes on your back and what was in your carry-on is missing: clothes, shoes, toiletries. And you have long week of meetings ahead. So now you have to scramble while your baggage is MIA for at least few days to find replacements for everything that you packed…if you can.

While such a scenario is dreadful, it’s actually not as common as it used to be. Airlines have made serious progress in preventing lost luggage. Last year saw a 12.25% drop in missing bags and there’s been an overall 70% decline since 2007.

So, whether you’re traveling for business, leisure, or any other purpose, and your luggage goes missing; don’t panic. Read these tips on what you can do to prevent landing at your destination bag-less and how to handle it if you do.

Before Takeoff…

Pack Your Bags in Preparation for the Worst Case

Oh, the joy of packing — so much to bring with so little space (along with following an abundance of TSA rules and regulations). It’s better to be prepared than not be, so bring all your important and valuable materials (like jewelry, heirlooms, credit cards, and medication) along with your travel documents (passport, itinerary, tickets, etc) on your person or in your carry-on.  It’s also a good idea to include some basic personal items in your carry-on –a change of clothes, travel size (and TSA approved) toiletries, etc — just in case your checked luggage isn’t there when you land.

Before departure, investigate the policies of the airline you’re flying with regarding checked baggage, they can usually be found on the airline’s website. Most policies are pretty similar, but it’s helpful to know how much would be reimbursed if your luggage is lost. It’s a good idea to have an itemized list and receipts handy (like emailed to yourself) to prove the value of anything costly included in your checked baggage, in case any explanation is needed while filing a claim for reimbursement. Be sure to attach a tag to the outside of your bag that has your name, phone number, and address. You can even get techy and purchase luggage tags with a tracking chip to aid the search if your bags do go missing. Oh, and putting a note inside your bag with your itinerary and contact info can go a long way in helping your airline reunite you with your luggage.

Try to Avoid Short Layovers

An hour minimum is recommended for a layover to ensure that you, your party, and your luggage have enough time to make it to a connecting flight. A commercial flight can have over two hundred bags on board, which is why it’s difficult for airport staff to quickly remove and transfer each bag from the plane in a short timeframe. If your luggage goes missing while connecting flights, the airline flying to your final destination is responsible and is who you should file a claim with.

Be Sure to Check in on Time

Just before you drop off your checked bags (and pray to the airline gods that they’ll arrive with you), it’s recommended to snap a photo of your bag with your phone, so you can give a detailed description if it’s lost. Oh, and hold onto your receipt, it’ll usually include a number to help track down your luggage if it doesn’t make your flight.

Late check-ins are one of the big reasons cited for why luggage gets lost. So find out your airline’s cut off time for checking luggage and try to get your bags in well before the very last minute.

After You Land…

File a Report for Your Lost Baggage ASAP

You’ve been watching the baggage carousel slowly go around a million times but your luggage still hadn’t appeared, so WHAT NOW?! Keep calm and immediately go to the baggage claim office to file a report on your missing baggage. Before you leave the airport angry and empty handed, take down the number of the clerk who filed your claim, request a copy of your claim, and ask for a customer service number to follow-up on the status of your bag. Keep in mind that all customers should be polite and understandable to the airline staff — remember they are doing their job to assist you and quickly find your luggage.

Work Out the Reimbursement

In air travel, there’s a difference between baggage that’s “missing” and baggage that’s “lost.” A missing bag can be returned within a few hours or days, but for international travel will be declared “lost” after 21 days. Luckily, if you paid a baggage fee the airline is required to issue you a refund when your bag does not arrive with you. A Department of Transportation spokesman told The Seattle Times in 2013 that the usual reimbursement from an airline is less than $3,500 for domestic flights and up to $1685 for international flights (depending on exchange rates).

Check Your Insurance Policies

Have travel or home owner’s insurance? If so, you may be in luck. Some insurance policies will cover lost or damaged items outside of the home including luggage. It’s important to check your policy, sometimes even delayed luggage is covered. If you’re a constant traveler, it may be a good idea to use a service like Blue Ribbon Bags, who (for a nominal fee before you depart) will keep you constantly updated on your luggage’s status and offers $1,000 guaranteed for each bag not found after 4 days.

Experience a similar traveling nightmare? Tell us your story in the comment section below!

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About The Author

Shannon Durso

A lover of fitness and all things travel related. Nice, France & the island of Turks and Caicos are her all time favorite places in the world. Shannon's motto: always travel to places with the best food ratings, culture, and all things beautiful!