It’s every traveler’s nightmare. You arrive at your destination, filled with excitement. But as you wait and wait for your suitcase to glide toward you on the luggage carousel, a sinking feeling forms in the pit of your stomach. The airline lost your luggage. So what do you do now? Here are five steps to take if the airline loses your suitcases.

Step 1: Remember Your Bag May Not Really Be Lost

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Is your bag really lost? Airlines rarely lose luggage for good. SITA, a specialist in airport transport communications, says airlines temporarily lost 5.73 bags per 1,000 passengers in 2017. In other words, it’s highly unlikely your luggage will be lost forever.

Step 2: Notify the Airline

The first thing you should do when you realize your luggage is missing in action is to notify the airline. Go immediately to the airline’s counter and let them know what happened. The customer service representative will ask you for identification and your baggage claim tag information. He or she will also ask you to provide your phone number and hotel or home address. Meanwhile, the customer service rep will look up your itinerary in order to determine where your suitcase is located. Often bags end up on the wrong flight. In fact, many are not really lost. They’re just delayed. And airlines can usually track them down within just a few hours.

Step 3: Get an Airline Contact Number

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Once you tell the airline that they’ve lost your luggage, get a contact number for the airline. Sometimes the airline may drag its feet finding your luggage or it may be taking its sweet time before compensating for your losses. If you know how to contact the right department, you can call and pester them until they provide you with the results you need.

Step 4: Get a Written Claim

Before you leave the airline counter, get a written claim for damages. In the U.S., when you pay a fee to check your luggage, the airline must reimburse the fee if it’s lost. The airline will usually send the refund within just a few weeks.

Step 5: Keep Track of Your Expenses and Don’t Forget to Follow Up

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Being on vacation without your luggage isn’t fun. But you have to make the best of it. You’ll need to purchase clothes and toiletries. Keep track of the money you spend. Don’t lose your receipts. You’ll need to submit them to the airline for reimbursement. The airline should pay any reasonable expenses you incur. Of course, the key word is “reasonable.” Don’t go crazy and buy super-expensive clothing at exclusive boutiques. The airline will probably refuse to reimburse abnormally high amounts.

After 30 days, your luggage is considered officially lost. According to, you need to file a claim with the airline in order to receive compensation. The airline typically requires you to report the value of your lost possessions. Be as accurate as possible when estimating the value of the lost items as airlines are quick to deny claims that appear exaggerated. The maximum compensation for lost, damaged or delayed luggage is around $3,300 for each passenger.

It may take a few weeks to receive reimbursements and refunds from the airline. Whatever you do, don’t give up. If you’re not receiving the response you need from the airline, continue to call them to learn the status of your claim. You may feel frustrated and angry, but don’t take it out on the customer service reps. As the old saying goes, “You catch more flies with honey.” And it’s not the customer service rep’s fault that the airline lost your luggage. Demonstrate patience, good manners and a sense of humor. It will make airline employees more likely to do everything they can to get the issue resolved.