It Ain’t Pretty When An Airline Loses Your Bag

by | Apr 6, 2018

Woman standing by a wall with suitcase
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Last updated on March 6th, 2024

What to do when an airline loses your bag

By Evelyn Hannon, Founder, JourneyWoman

Trends in travel are changing so quickly that maybe five years from now an article like this will be obsolete. However, for now airlines are still losing travellers’ luggage and from personal experience I can tell you that when that happens, it ain’t a pretty picture. I’m writing this article to offer tips that will help you get through the process easier.

I have two pieces of luggage to choose from when I travel – one carryon size and one bigger for when I have heavier clothing that just won’t fit the smaller suitcase. Going to the Antarctic was one assignment that necessitated my larger bag. Expedition clothes and boots are bulky. Expedition clothes that are big and bulky are generally very expensive as well. It was that big suitcase filled with expensive items that Air Canada lost on my flight home from South America. LAN Airlines (Air Canada partner) took the bag from me in Buenos Aires and while I made my connection with AC in Santiago, my suitcase took an entirely different route. Where it went I will never know.

However, when it didn’t show up I was thrown down a rabbit hole of airline rules and regulations that are entirely in favor of the airlines. My travel writer hands were tied as I tried to (a) locate the suitcase (b) be reimbursed for my loss. Please note: Though my experience was with Air Canada, I believe that every other airline would have treated me the same way.

Here is what happened…

1. Sinking feeling. My suitcase is not on the luggage carousel when I arrive in Toronto, Canada.

2. I report my loss to an Air Canada agent who gives me a slip of paper with instructions to call their missing baggage telephone number and the number I must identify myself with moving forward. I very quickly learn that I am calling India and the very polite agent advises me that my ‘delayed’ bag has not yet been located. I must have made at least a dozen more calls to this tracing service and the message I received was always exactly the same no matter which way I asked, ‘Where is my luggage?’

3. On Day #2 I ask if I may buy some new make-up as it was checked with my lost luggage. My request is denied. I am told I must wait for 4 days before I can make any purchases. I’m refused because ‘I was at home’ (and surely I have doubles of every moisturizing cream, etc.)

4. On Day #4 an Air Canada representative speaks to me and allows $300 to be spent against any compensation I might receive for ‘delayed’ (no one ever used the word ‘lost’ ) items in my bag.

5. I create a Facebook page called, ‘Air Canada Give Journeywoman Back Her Bag.’ Subsequently over 500 people LIKE the page and offer their encouragement and expertise.

6. I ask my Twitter followers for direct email addresses of higher ups in Air Canada and LAN Airlines. I email to all the contacts I receive including the President of Air Canada and others in charge of baggage. I receive responses from the baggage department who are all sympathetic to my ‘delayed’ baggage issue. Period.

7. I learned that within 21 days I must fill in a detailed form listing all of the things in my bag. This was an odious job. Filling in this form meant listing every single item in my suitcase (a) when I bought it. (b) its cost. (c) color and size (d) a copy of each of the bills (which we all know is next to impossible). I spend the better part of a week making long distance phone calls, tracking down bills for most of my clothes and cosmetics and photocopying everything. I write explanatory notes for those items that were purchased in markets (no receipts) or for items received as gifts.

8. I create a document package as directed and to the above I must add:
a) Airline tickets/itinerary
b) Original purchase receipts
c) Baggage claim checks.
d) Photocopy of signed photo identification.

9. The total in lost possessions adds up to $3300. I send the package in and wait.

10. I’m informed that based on airline rules, etc. I can only claim up to $1800 for lost items.

11. My package is reviewed and I am told that if after 40 days my bag is still not returned the insurance division will evaluate my claim.

12. Close to three months later a cheque for $1706.04 arrives. When I question where the other $94.00 of the allowable $1800 is, the response is – ‘This is what $1800 was worth on the day you travelled.’ See below:

‘Please be advised that the maximum settlement amount of your claim is based on the SDR (special drawing rights) maintained by the International Monetary Fund and the amount varies from day to day. The amount of $1800.00 that you were told to receive was based on the maximum approximate amount possible as per the SDR. However, this was not the case for your travel date. That being said, the calculations for your travel date amount to $1706.04 CAD which represent the maximum allowed settlement for your claim.’

So, dear JourneyWomen, don’t check your bags unless you absolutely, positively have to do it.

How to avoid lost luggage…

After reading my traveller’s tale and the trauma of lost luggage, I believe that you will think twice about taking so much stuff that you have to check your bags. However, if you must check your luggage keep these thoughts in mind:

1. From here on in, create an envelope for every piece of clothing and any accessories you buy. Have these documents as a backup just in case.

2. Create a list of everything in your suitcase and put one copy in your suitcase and keep one at home.

3. Take a photo of your suitcase and the agent who checks it in. This could help with tracking. (Of course, ask agent’s permission)

4. Put at least two sturdy name tags on your suitcase.

5. Put your contact information inside your suitcase in case the tags go missing.

6. When you purchase your ticket surf your airline’s website for their lost baggage directives. Know what to expect if the worse happens.

7. If your bag does go missing don’t just sit back and wring your hands. Remember to be polite but firm and keep asking if your bag has been found.

8. Do not throw away anything pertaining to your flight (baggage tags, e-ticket, itinerary, etc) until you and your bags are home safe and sound.

9. Some home insurance policies and credit card companies offer $1000 in baggage insurance over and above what the airlines will pay you. Read the small print.

10. Think about purchasing a tracking device that will help you locate your luggage should it go missing.

Update: We recommend Apple’s RFI AirTag on every piece of luggage including computer, daypack and checked bags so that you can track missing items through my Find My iPhone app.  

More Travel Tips

Evelyn started Journeywoman in 1994, and unknowingly became the world's first female travel blogger. She inspired a sisterhood of women, a grassroots movement, to inspire women to travel safely and well, and to connect women travellers around the world. She passed away in 2019, but her legacy lives on.


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