I had my first lost luggage experience on my way to Austria this summer. After many international (and domestic) trips the past several years, I'm surprised it hasn't happened sooner.
Luckily the bag arrived to my hotel the day after I got there, but was still an inconvenience!
If you're met with the unfortunate lost bag scenario when traveling, here's what to do!
Be prepared beforehand, just in case
Pack your carry-on like a pro
Pack a change of clothes, and don't forget socks and underwear in your carry-on! Also bring your toothbrush and toothpaste, deodorant, and anything else you may need to feel fresh.
Always put your more expensive and sentimental items in your carry-on as well. You don't want your nice DSLR camera or jewelry your grandmother handed down to you to get lost!
Take a photo of and write down your baggage claim ticket number
This is absolutely essential. When you check into the flight and hand your checked bag over to the attendant, they'll give you a baggage claim receipt. In the past I've always thrown it away for some reason, I didn't realize that number was so important. Luckily I didn't throw it away the time my bag got lost, and that significantly helped them find my bag sooner.
Download the app of the airline you're traveling with, if they have one
I was flying Delta when my bag got left behind, and knew it beforehand. My flight was delayed and I had to rebook my flights so I'd make the next few legs to get to Europe, and they didn't switch my bag over in time.
Since I had the airline's app on my phone, I put my baggage claim tracking number into the bags section and it showed me the breakdown of where my bag was and how it was getting to Austria.
I flew Phoenix - Atlanta - Paris - Vienna, and I got to track my bag as it went from Phoenix - Atlanta - Amsterdam - Vienna. Crazy!
screenshot of app
If there is no app, you can ask a gate agent at the airport or anyone who works for the airline to direct you where to go.
You may not even find out your bag was lost until you arrive at baggage claim and it's not among the others on the belt. There is usually an office or lost bag area in the baggage claim section of the airport. Again, always feel free to ask airport staff for directions on where to go!
Call the last airline you were flying to take care of the luggage
I found this out the hard way as I called Delta and had a (very rude) customer service rep tell me that they're not responsible for my pickup of the bag...I didn't know, it was my first time dealing with a lost bag... :(
Instead, I had to work with Austrian Air (the flight I took that was operated by Delta) and talk to their people.
Look up the customer service or lost luggage number and call them (Austrian Air has an English speaking phone line).
You'll need to have your flight information and baggage number, and you'll then describe what the bag looks like.
Also, tell them at this time where you are staying - give them the address of your hotel/place of stay so they can deliver it (they should deliver it, you shouldn't have to go back to the airport).
The airline you're trying to get in touch with may have an email address, but I would assume it's faster to call them and get it sorted out. I used an app on my phone for free WiFi calls but it was so bad I don't even remember the name of it (I deleted it). Skype and MagicJack are good apps where you can pay to add credit and get crystal clear phone calls to any number over WiFi.
Sometimes you'll get reimbursed for expenses you may have to have if your bag gets lost. To ensure you get compensated, file a report.
I didn't do this as I was so busy with work and had most of what I needed, and I didn't feel like taking the energy to do this. However, if you want to file a report, definitely do it!
Once the report is filed look at the airline's information to see if you can request compensation.
Can you prevent lost luggage?
Not really. Usually it's an error that just happens. However, if you purchase your flight legs separately/through different airlines it is more likely to get lost.
Be prepared! Use the tips in the first section to make sure if your bag does get lost, you can hopefully get it back fast.
For example, I flew Delta all the way to Europe even though the last flight was operated by Austrian Air. If you purchase each leg of the flight separately, the bag won't check all the way through. You'd have to go to baggage claim at each airport and re-check the bag. I'm actually not even sure if this is allowed? It sounds like a headache though!