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What Is the Airlines Baggage Claims Process?

What You Should Know About Checked Baggage and Your Luggage on Airlines


If you discover your airline luggage missing or damaged upon arrival at your destination, you should notify your airline carrier immediately of the situation because most airlines offer a limited amount of time when you may submit a claim for reimbursement. Therefore, it's always best to notify your airline upon arrival at the airport whenever possible.

To their defense, the vast majority of missing baggage reports are due to airline delays, and most are returned to passengers within 24 to 72 hours.

If baggage does not appear to have arrived on time or if it is visibly damaged, travelers should go to the baggage desk of their airline at the terminal (which is located in the same area as baggage arrivals). If your particular airline does not have its own baggage desk, go to the baggage desk of your airline's partner airline in that destination (e.g., Star Alliance, OneWorld, Sky Team, etc.).

Reporting Damaged Airline Luggage

It's obviously not as easy to file a claim regarding damaged or pilfered baggage items when first arriving at an airport. After all, most people may not notice these issues until they begin to unpack after the arrival. But it's important to report the situation immediately to the airline because mishandled baggage policies vary by airline.

Mishandled baggage by Virgin Airlines, for example, requests that individuals wishing to file claims for damaged baggage must do so within 7 business days. If the baggage is damaged, a person filing claim must allow the airline to inspect the physical damage itself to determine the nature, extent and ability to repair the damage.

Damaged bags by American Airlines must be reported within 24 hours for domestic flights and 7 days for international flights.

Submitting Airline Baggage Claims for Lost Luggage

Passengers whose luggage is missing will be required to complete a baggage claim form with their airline. You will be expected to present basic flight information, baggage description and documentation of your initial report. The United Airlines baggage tracing/claim form asks travelers to provide details of each item -- including purchase receipts or proof of ownership for each item that is valued above $100:

  • Article
  • Color, size, material, label or brand
  • Gender (male, female, child, infant)
  • Where purchased
  • Date purchased
  • Origianl cost (USD)
  • Or other currency (type and amount)

Airlines will typically also limit the types of items of liability as well.

Limitations of Airline Liability

Recognizing the issue and potential financial impact to themselves, airlines will post liability limits for lost, pilfered and damaged airline luggage.

Because many airlines do not proactively educate passengers about their baggage liability limits and/or additional insurance programs, it's important for travelers to contact their airline to determine if additional insurance is required to cover any value that may exceed the standard reimbursement levels offered by airlines (i.e., "excess valuation").

As of June 5, 2009, for domestic travel within the U.S., Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands, baggage claim liability is limited to $3,300 per ticketed passenger.

However, for international travel, the potential liability for airlines is potentially much less. All airlines defer to the Warsaw Convention which limits airlines' liability to $9.07 per pound (or $20 per kg) or the Montreal Convention which limits airlines' liability to 1,000 special drawing rights, which is roughly $1,500. Of course, it would be an airline's discretion to offer greater reimbursement value.

One airline that posts information about the cost of excess baggage value insurance is Delta Airlines on its site available at check-in (data posted June 5, 2009):

  • $3300.01-$4000.00: $40 (domestic)
  • $4000.01-$5000.00: $50 (domestic)
  • up to $1000.00: $10 (international)
  • $1000.01 to $2000.00: $20 (international)
  • $2000.01 to $3000.00: $30 (international)
  • $3000.01 to $4000.00: $40 (international)
  • $4000.01 to $5000.00: $50 (international

Airlines will clearly state that they do not have any liability for fragile items, perishable items, minor damages to baggage (e.g., scuffs or dents from normal wear and tear), damage resulting from Transportation Security Administration (TSA) inspections, etc.

What You Should Know About Mishandled and Lost Airline Luggage, page 1
Should United Airlines’ Baggage Fees Raise Concern?, page 2
An In-Depth Look at Damaged and Lost Airline Luggage, page 3
Denied Boardings and Causes of Damaged and Lost Airline Luggage, page 4
What Is the Airlines Baggage Claims Process?, page 5

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