You Didn’t Make It to St. Louis, but Your Bags Did. Here’s What to Do.


To reduce mishandling, tuck in loose straps that can get tangled with machinery or another bag and veer off course. Remove any bar code stickers or checked luggage tags from previous trips.

Luggage that may seem lost might have been taken accidentally by someone with a similar bag, especially if it’s a black, wheeled carry-on, the most common bag, said Kevin Larson, the Alaska Airlines manager of central baggage services. The luggage also may just be on another carousel. Mr. Larson advises passengers to put something unique, like a colorful ribbon, on the outside of their bag. A bright luggage tag, stickers or reflective tape also can make a suitcase stand out.

Act immediately. If your luggage does not arrive when you do, notify the airline before you leave the airport. Getting in touch by phone has been challenging through other luggage crises.

Pack smart. The Department of Transportation recommends passengers avoid packing items in their checked bags that are valuable, fragile, perishable or irreplaceable, and allows airlines to specify types of items they won’t cover if they are lost like cash, jewelry, computers, art objects, antiques and collectibles. Keep those with you or leave them at home. Put important medications in your carry-on.

Keep a virtual eye on it. Placing a small tracking device like a Tile or Apple AirTag inside your luggage lets you monitor the bag’s whereabouts via a phone app. “It’s about the same cost as checking one bag,” said Mr. Cox at Breeze Airways. Trackers are especially useful for discovering if someone mistakenly took your bag off the carousel instead of their own.

Some airlines, including United, American and Delta Air Lines, offer baggage tracking capabilities for passengers via the carrier’s website or mobile app.

Know the rules for compensation. The Department of Transportation lists the rules that airlines must follow when luggage is delayed or lost. The most that an airline can owe a passenger is $3,800 per bag. Flights with an international leg fall under different rules and the most a passenger will receive is about $1,800.