You’re standing at a baggage carousel for what seems like forever when the steady flow of bags onto the conveyor belt slows to a trickle, then stops. Your bags are nowhere in sight. Or your bags do show up, but look like an angry gorilla has been throwing them around his cage for sport. Who’s responsible for your damaged, delayed, or lost luggage?

If your bags are delayed, try not to panic. The airlines typically have ways to track them, and the vast majority of misplaced luggage is returned eventually. If your bags are on the next flight, you could have them within a few hours. If they’ve been sent to the wrong airport, it could take a couple of days. Make sure to file your claim immediately at the airport and to give the attendant a hotel or home address, as well as a phone number where you can be reached.

The airlines will typically bring you your luggage when it is found; you will rarely need to return to the airport to pick it up. Additionally, many airlines will reimburse any unexpected expenses caused by the loss or delay (keep your receipts!).

Before you leave the airport, get a reference number for your claim and find out how to check on your bag’s status; some airlines have an online system while others will provide you with a phone number to call for updates.

If the airline loses your bags, make sure you get a written claim for damages. This may require a different form than the original “missing luggage” form. This can be done at the airport or online.

The maximum an airline pays on lost bags and their contents is currently limited to $3,500 per passenger on U.S. domestic flights, and a varying rate per passenger for checked baggage on international flights based on the Warsaw Convention or the Montreal Convention. In the United States, if you paid a checked baggage fee for your lost bag, the airline must refund your fee. Check your carrier’s website for specifics.

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