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Lost, Delayed Baggage Compensation: How Much Can You Get in the US

Lost, Delayed Baggage Compensation: How Much Can You Get in the US

Joanna Teljeur
Written By Joanna Teljeur
Last Updated: May 09, 2024

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According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Airlines in the US, “handled 45.6 million bags” as of July 2023. Unfortunately, they go on to report that the percentage of mishandled luggage has increased by 0.75%

So what can you expect in the US if your bags are delayed, lost, or damaged? Our experts have compiled this guide to help you determine if you’re eligible for compensation and how to take the next step to get reimbursed or compensated.

KEY POINTS

  1. When it comes to baggage claims, The Department of Transportation sets liability limits for US carriers. The current liability limit for US domestic travel is $3,800 per passenger.
  2. For round-trip international flights that originate in the US, the Montreal Convention sets baggage liability limits for airlines which is currently US $1,780.
  3. Whether your bag is lost, delayed, or damaged, you’re entitled to compensation from airlines up to the liability limit. This, however, is not a guarantee. You must follow specific procedures in order to be eligible for compensation and reimbursement.

What are your US baggage rights as a passenger

Domestic Flights

In the US, airlines are responsible for your luggage from the moment you drop it off until the moment you retrieve it at your final destination. So, when it comes to your baggage rights as a passenger, it’s important to remember that airlines in the US have liability limits for lost, damaged, or delayed checked luggage.

Currently, the liability limit is $3,800 per ticketed passenger as regulated by the Department of Transportation, but this amount is regularly updated to account for inflation.

So, if your bags have been lost, delayed, or damaged, and you would like to file a complaint with the airline, remember that, because of the liability limits, airlines will only reimburse you up to $3,800 even if your bags and/or your items are worth more.

If you must check bags with anything worth more than the liability limit, then you should ask about getting “excess valuation” when you check in.

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NOTE: Buying “excess valuation” doesn’t work like insurance. Instead it could increase the amount that you’ll be compensated. Also, airlines have the right to refuse to sell you this if you’re trying to check items that are especially delicate and valuable.

International Flights

If you have a round trip ticket to an international destination that originated in the US, then the liability limit for the airline will be established by the Montreal Convention.

Under the rules of this treaty, liability limits are set by Special Drawing Rights which are currently worth about $1,780. This means that if you started your trip in the States and traveled to another country that ratified the Montreal Convention, and you encounter a problem with your luggage, the airline is only liable for up to $1,780.

But let’s take a closer look at the different baggage claim categories, how they’re defined, and what you can expect.

Baggage Compensation and Reimbursement in the USA

Baggage compensation and reimbursement in the USA

Damaged baggage

Damage would include any harm done to your bags or suitcases as well as any damage to items inside your bags.

Airlines will reimburse you for any repairs that you need to make to your luggage, but if the damage is extensive, then they will try to negotiate a payment for the depreciated value of your bags.

If items inside your suitcase are damaged, airlines will try to determine whether the harm was caused by the delicate nature of the item itself. For example, they might not be willing to reimburse you for the broken wine glasses you tried to pack.

Delayed baggage

If your luggage doesn’t arrive at your destination the same time you do, then it is considered delayed. Most often, delayed bags are delivered to you within a few hours, but if they are not, then the airline will reimburse you for any reasonable purchases you need to make while your bags are delayed while you’re away from home.

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In fact, the Department of Transportation states that most airlines have established guidelines to allow airport employees to give you some money for emergency purchases.

 

It’s important to understand that if the airline doesn’t agree with what you consider a reasonable purchase, they will likely try to negotiate an amount to cover the expense. Bottom line: don’t assume they’ll reimburse you for a shopping spree. Get what you need and keep all your receipts.

But again, airlines are only liable to compensate or reimburse you up to $3,800 in connection with baggage delays.

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Lost baggage

For airlines in America, luggage is considered officially lost if it hasn’t been located and returned to you after 21 days. When this happens, you can file a claim with the airline for compensation to cover your bags as well as the contents.

Check with your airline for specifics on how to file. Sometimes airlines will require you to complete more than one form, and if you fail to do this correctly or within the right time frame, it could eliminate your chances of compensation.

It’s also important to understand that filing a lost baggage claim with an airline does not entitle you to the entire $3,800 compensation limit. In fact, airlines will ask you to provide detailed information and even sales receipts about your luggage that has gone missing. Then, they will determine the depreciated value of your belongings the same way insurance companies do.

The upshot here is to provide as much detailed information as possible along with documentation to support your claims. Once you’ve filed your claim, you can expect a wait of up to 3 months for compensation.

And lastly, don’t be surprised if the airline offers you free flights instead of a cash settlement. This can sometimes be a bonus as the free ticket value is usually more than what you’d be offered in cash. Just be sure to ask about any limitations the free tickets might have.

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Tip: If you’ve had connecting flights and encountered baggage issues, you will need to file a claim with the airline that operated the last leg of your itinerary.

Assistive devices

Liability limits do not apply to lost, damaged, or delayed assistive devices. For domestic flights in the USA, the airline is required to cover the entire cost of assistive devices that have sustained damage or have gone missing.

The DOT defines an assistive device as, “any piece of equipment that assists a passenger with a disability in coping with the effects of his or her disability”.

Assistive devices include:

  • Prescription medications as well as any devices you need to take the medicine like syringes.
  • Portable oxygen concentrators (POCs)
  • Continuous positive airway pressure machines (CPAPs)
  • Wheelchairs
  • Hearing aids
  • Crutches, canes, and walkers
  • Braces and prosthetics.

If you have assistive devices that are damaged or lost during your travel in the US, contact an airline employee as soon as possible for assistance. If they are unable to provide the help you need, you can contact the airline’s Complaint Resolution Official (CRO). As an expert on disability accommodations, a CRO is available at every airport, and you can speak with them in person or by phone.

If you cannot reach the CRO, you can also reach the DOT Disability Hotline at 1-800-778-4838 from 8:30am to 5:00pm Monday through Friday.

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Find out more about baggage claim compensation.

How to file a US baggage claim

How to file a US baggage claim

Filing a baggage claim with airlines can be an arduous process with a lot of hurdles to jump. In order to get reimbursed or compensated, you’ll need to gather as much information as possible and file it within specific time frames that can differ among airlines. American airlines, for example, requires passengers to complete this form, which will give you a better idea of how much information you’ll need to gather.

Documents you’ll need

The more the better. Whether your bags were lost, damaged, or delayed, you’ll need to compile as much evidence as possible to back up your claims.

  1. Checked luggage receipts
  2. Boarding passes or ticket receipts
  3. A copy of the report you filed at the airport (Property Irregularity Report). This sometimes includes a number or code that you’ll need to reference in your claim.
  4. A copy of your photo ID
  5. Original receipts for purchases made because of a delayed bag
  6. Photos of the inside and outside of your bags before your flight
  7. Receipts and/or an itemized list of your luggage contents that were damaged or lost.

Documents needed to file a baggage claim in the US

Deadlines for claiming

This varies among airlines, but here are a few examples to give you a better idea.

  1. American Airlines - For lost bags, file your claim within 30 days from your travel date and within 21 days for lost or missing baggage.
  2. Southwest - For any baggage issue, you must file a claim within 4 hours after your arrival for domestic flights and within 7 calendar days for international flights. For international bag delays, you have up to 21 calendar days to file.
  3. United - For damaged bags, you have 7 days to file and for delayed bags you have up to 21 days to file a claim.
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If your baggage was lost, delayed or damaged, you could be eligible for compensation up to $3,800 USD

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Conclusion

To recap, you are entitled to compensation and reimbursement from airlines in the US for lost, damaged, or delayed luggage up to $3,800 for domestic flights and up to $1,780 for international, round-trip travel that originated in the States. But the key takeaway here is that you probably shouldn’t expect an automatic cash payout for these amounts.

Each airline has their own unique rules and processes that govern how these amounts are distributed to you. Make sure you contact your airline for complete details.

US baggage claims FAQ

What do I do if my bag is damaged by the TSA (security check)?

If your luggage was inspected and subsequently damaged by the TSA, you will need to file a claim with them on their site. Airlines will not compensate you for any damage caused during security screenings.

How much can I be reimbursed for purchases while my bag is delayed?

If your baggage is delayed while you are away from home, most airlines will reimburse you for any necessary purchases that you need to make. There is no set limit for daily purchases, but you will need to prove the airline with original receipts for anything you need to buy.

If I have travel insurance, can I still get compensation from the airlines for my baggage loss or damage?

When you check your bags, you enter into a contract with the airline, so the airline would be primarily responsible for compensating and/or reimbursing you. If you have travel insurance, check your individual policy for details.

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