Incredible as it sounds, millions of checked-in bags are either lost or damaged in transit. When we hand our luggage over we expect to see it again at our destination. But what should you do if it is not there?
A traveller’s mantra should be: “when I leave the airport it will be either with my luggage or a PIR form”.
When you are the last person standing at the carrousel and it dawns on you that your bag is not going to show you probably will not care that most lost luggage is reunited with its owner within 24 hours or that less than 0.005% of check-in luggage is ever permanently lost. You need to know what to do next.
Get the paperwork done
BEFORE you leave the baggage reclamation area it is imperative to find a member of the airline staff or the customer services desk to report the loss.
Insist on filing the complaint even if you are told that your bag will be arriving on the next flight. Waiting as little as three days can sometimes invalidate your claim.
You will be given a Property Irregularity Report ( PIR ) to fill in. Do this on the spot and ask for a copy. This form, together with the baggage receipt you were given at check-in (the assistant usually sticks this to the ticket or onto your passport), are essential if you want to make a compensation claim from the airline or from your travel insurance. Your PIR is not a claim in itself, so you must still make a claim in writing within seven days.
Compensation for delayed luggage
If you are on your outward journey, be sure to ask for some cash for immediate supplies. The airline may suggest you buy the supplies and they will refund on receipt.
Agree to the spending limit in advance and don’t expect too much generosity as airlines take the view that once your bag has turned up you will have future use of its contents.
On your homebound journey, the airline will not be so forthcoming since they will assume you have everything you need at home. At best, when the bag does finally turn up the airline will deliver the bag to you at their own expense.
At worst, it will take up to twenty-one days before the airline admits that your bag is lost. In this case, you are eligible for compensation, but you will have to write in again.
Compensation for lost luggage
Under the Montreal Convention (which replaced the old rules of the now defunct Warsaw Convention in May 1999) passengers can claim up to a maximum of 1,131 Special Drawing Rights ( SDR s) for lost luggage per person.
The value of an SDR is dependent on a basket of international currencies and so fluctuates. The calculation is made daily by the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and can range from £526 to £850. Airlines are not in the habit of doling out compensation in a hurry and the amount you receive will depend on how much proof you have of the value of your contents. The general rule of thumb is to expect £14 per kilo.
Compensation for stolen items
If an individual item is stolen from your bag it is still difficult to get compensation from the airline because you would have the almost impossible task of proving it was there in the first place. The AUC (Air Transport Users Council) advises you to use only good quality luggage, not to put valuables in bags checked into the hold and to take out travel insurance.
It’s not a good idea to put valuable items such as mobile phones, camcorders, cameras and jewellery into your checked-in baggage since airlines have a clause in their conditions of carriage denying the liability for them. The precise legal status of these get-out clauses is uncertain but you would have to go to court to gain compensation.
Compensation for damaged baggage
Where your baggage is damaged instead of its contents you can insist on the cost of repairs, or a replacement bag.
Travel insurance can save the day
Travel insurance can help. It is vital that when choosing a policy you are happy that it provides adequately for your needs and for any shortfall in compensation offered under the Montreal Convention.
- Choose to fly direct if you have the option. Transfers increase the chances of bags going missing.
- Make sure you bag is secure. Use a travel padlock.
- Don’t pack valuables or money in your luggage.
- Carry a change of clothes and wash kit in your hand luggage but stay within the limits of 1 litre of liquid through security rule.
- Check-in early.
- Keep your baggage receipt given to you at the check-in desk. You will need this in case of loss.
- Get adequate travel insurance.
- Tag your bags with your details.