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Consumer Rights.

Updated: 5 Mar 2021

The airline has lost or damaged my bag, what can I do?

Baggage is one of the biggest areas of complaint for air passengers. Mishandled luggage means inconvenience and frustration for individuals - and it can be costly too.
Which?Editorial team

Lost or damaged baggage: what are the rules?

According to the Montreal Convention, airlines are responsible for the bags they allow you to check in, although their liability is limited.

If you're carrying something valuable, either get a 'special declaration of interest in the delivery of your luggage' from the airline or carry the item in your hand luggage.

For mishandled baggage claims, the liability limit of airlines is around £1,200 per passenger. 

This is a maximum limit. Claims are assessed in two ways:

  • damage or loss caused by delay of passengers, baggage or cargo
  • damage caused by the destruction, loss or damage to baggage.

Damage is considered by airlines to be costs, such as expenses incurred by passengers buying essential items when luggage is delayed, or compensation for loss of baggage. 

However, it can also be incidental expenses related to the mishandling of baggage. These expenses may include the cost of transport to pick up a delayed bag from the airport.

Key Information

In Summary

  • Airlines are responsible for the bags they allow you to check in but their responsibility is limited 
  • Unless you make a 'special declaration of interest in the delivery of your luggage', the most an airline can pay you is 1,288 Special Drawing Rights.
  • Luggage is declared lost after 21 days.
  • To claim for lost luggage you must claim within seven days of it being declared lost. 

If your luggage is damaged

If you arrive in the baggage hall to find your luggage has been damaged, go to the relevant luggage handling counter at the airport and fill in a Property Irregularity Report (PIR). 

The airline will then contact you to discuss the extent of the damage and its recourse, which could take the form of a new suitcase. 

It's not a legal requirement to have a PIR, but it does speed up the claims process.

If your luggage doesn't arrive

If your luggage doesn’t arrive, you must also go to the relevant luggage handling counter at the airport and complete a Property Irregularity Report (PIR).

Before leaving the terminal, get a copy of this and take the handling agent's contact details. 

The agent will be able to track your luggage using its barcode and should tell you what's happened. 

Remember that genuinely 'lost' luggage is a bag with no ID, so make sure that your details are attached outside and inside. 

If you're concerned about security and don't want to include your name and address on the bag, simply include your mobile number or email address so you can be contacted.

Key Information

Cabin baggage

If your cabin baggage is unexpectedly moved to the hold airlines are liable for lost and damaged hold luggage, up to a value of around £1,200. Many airlines state in their T&Cs that they will not pay out for any valuables that go missing.

Which? Travel readers have reported jewellery, cash and tablets going missing from cabin bags that were unexpectedly put in the hold. 

But, airlines cannot opt out of luggage liabilities, so it’s worth pursuing a claim for lost or damaged luggage, or items that have gone missing from your cabin bag.

Buying replacement items

When you arrive at your destination without your bag, you'll probably need to spend money on essentials. 

But don't go on a wild shopping spree - buy only what you need and keep receipts. 

In most cases, the airline will quickly trace your bag and will have it delivered to you, free of charge, in the next day or two.

How to make a claim

If your luggage has been damaged or lost, you can claim compensation from either the airline or your travel insurance provider. 

Unless you make a 'special declaration of interest in the delivery of your luggage', the most an airline can pay you is 1,288 Special Drawing Rights.

Special Drawing Rights are often described as an international currency. 1,288 Special Drawing Rights is currently around £1,359, depending on current exchange rates.

If you want to claim compensation for damage, write to the airline within seven days of receiving your luggage. 

For delays, write within 21 days from when you handed your luggage to the airline.

If your bags haven't turned up after 21 days, they are considered lost. 

To claim compensation you must write to the airline within seven days of the luggage being declared lost . You can use our template letter to do this. 

Airlines, however, generally do not accept any liability for inconvenience, stress or any consequential losses arising from the delay or loss of baggage, although if the flight was part of a package, you should put in a claim for this against the tour operator.

But be warned: the compensation you receive is unlikely to cover the full cost of replacing the items, and you may be better off claiming on your insurance policy. It's a good idea to check your insurance policy first.

Smartphone app for passenger rights

The European Commission has launched an app for passengers travelling in the EU. 

The application covers your rights for all modes of transport, and is available on the following platforms: Apple iPhone and iPad, Google Android, RIM Blackberry and Microsoft Windows Phone 7. 

Download the app here.