How to Deal with Delayed, Damaged, or Lost Luggage

August 18, 2015
How to Deal with Delayed, Damaged, or Lost Luggage

You’ve just arrived in a new city. Everything around you is foreign. Nobody speaks English and after a sixteen hour flight, all you want to do is check into your hotel, take a nice long bath and get a good night’s rest. As you arrive at the baggage carousel, you see people frantically grabbing their suitcases, dragging them off the conveyer belt and lugging them onto their trolleys.

Patiently, you wait… and wait. Thirty minutes later, you’re still waiting. People clear out in dribs and drabs and the area starts to quiet down. There are a few pieces of luggage left but they’ve been circling for ages. Now, it’s time to panic. You’ve arrived but your luggage hasn’t.

On my first trip to China, this scenario became a reality for me. I was traveling solo and had just landed in a strange country where nobody around me spoke English. A year’s supply worth of clothes and cosmetics, a suit for a business meeting and all of my shoes… gone! It was inevitable. I freaked out. I threw a tantrum. I called my mum and cried.

So what do you do in the event that your luggage is delayed? Or worse, lost? Here are some tips to cope with delayed, damaged or lost luggage:

How to Deal with Delayed, Damaged, or Lost Luggage

After You Arrive

The moment you realise your luggage hasn’t arrived, there are three things you should do: (1) Find the baggage claim counter and fill out a report. (2) Contact the airline you travelled with and ask them to check if your luggage was loaded onto the plane or offloaded during connecting flights. (3) Alert your travel insurance company and find out what documents are needed to file a claim. All three should be done before leaving the airport.

Delayed Luggage

In the event of delayed luggage, the first step is to file a claim with the airline before leaving the airport. Airlines almost always have a way to find delayed luggage so give them as many details as possible – colour, size, attachments and pictures if you have any. Most airlines will bring your luggage to you when it has been found so provide them with sufficient contact details of your whereabouts, including hotel addresses and phone numbers. Also find out how you can check the status of your bag – is it an online system or via a call centre?

Lost Luggage

If you think your luggage has been lost, it’s essential to get a written statement from the airline as this will prove invaluable in the event of travel insurance claims. It’s also a good idea to inquire if you will be reimbursed for any additional costs. Many airlines cover initial expenses caused by loss or delay so keep all receipts. The value of this reimbursement, however, depends on the status of your flight – domestic or international – so boarding pass stubs may be required too. You may also need to provide proof of your suitcase contents and related costs.

Damaged Luggage

Luggage damage happens all the time – wheels are broken off, zippers give way and seams burst. As you collect your suitcase from the conveyer belt, check immediately for any damages BEFORE leaving the airport. Report any issues to airline customer service. They may inspect your bag before issuing a letter. This again, will assist in travel insurance claims. Keep all receipts for luggage repairs or ask if the airline is willing to cover repair costs with their own repair vendor.


Whilst you can’t predict when or where your luggage will go missing, you can plan for the worst in the event that it does occur. Here are some things to do before you leave on your travels.

Always ensure your bags can be identified. Clearly label your name and contact details, both inside and out. It’s a good idea to add your hotel contact numbers just in case. It’s common for luggage to be left behind because of last minute rushes so avoid late check-ins and close connecting flights.

Valuable items should be packed in your carry-on. These include important documents like itineraries and hotel booking references. It’s also a good idea to have a list of all the items in your suitcase. This way, you can clearly notify the airline or travel insurance company as to what’s in your bag.

Double check that the correct destination tags have been attached to your suitcase. Don’t forget to receive a baggage claim ticket along with your boarding pass.

Most importantly, purchase reliable travel insurance. This ensures that you will be covered in the event of any damage or loss. Keep the contact details of your insurance company in a safe and easily accessible place.

It’s inevitable that at some point whilst traversing the globe, your luggage will be lost, damaged or delayed. As frustrating as it may be, try your best to remain calm. Don’t be afraid to post on the airline’s social media pages. There’s a good chance someone from the marketing team will respond and try to help before the baggage claim office does. You most likely will be reunited with your luggage in a few days or worse – reimbursed so that you can buy a whole new wardrobe from the country you’re visiting! That can’t be a bad thing!

Do you have any tips for dealing with delayed, damaged, or lost luggage?

About Shalinee Naidoo

Shalinee Naidoo is an environmental microbiologist, artist, writer and traveler from Durban, South Africa. She currently holds a Master of Science in Environmental Microbiology but has chosen a life on the road – teaching English and Science to young students whilst documenting her traveling escapades on her blog: Life, Love & Travel.

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