When it comes to corporate travel, there’s no greater horror than losing your luggage during a trip.

You may be accustomed to the hassles of frequent flying, but even the most seasoned business travellers get anxious when it comes to lost baggage. No amount of corporate travel planning experience can ease that feeling!

It can be quite scary when seconds turn into minutes by the baggage carousel, and your bags don’t show up. Here’s what you should do when you lose your luggage on your business trip.

1. Understand what’s considered lost luggage

Your luggage is lost if it hasn’t arrived 21 days after the date that it should, or if the airline admits the loss, as established by the Montreal Convention. This treaty holds airlines liable for its passengers’ baggage.

But the chances of your luggage being lost is at an all-time low. Research from SITA shows that about 5.69 bags were misplaced (lost or delayed) per 1,000 passengers in 2018. This is a significant (70 per cent) decrease from 18.88 bags per 1,000 passengers in 2007.

On the rare occasion that your luggage does not arrive on time, you have a five per cent possibility that it is lost. It’s more likely that your bags are delayed, which was the case for over three-quarters (77 per cent) of all mishandled bags in 2018.

Resolution 753, a new baggage policy that came into force in mid-2018, also provides much-needed assurance. Enforced by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), it requires airlines to track baggage at four main points. This policy further reduces the mishandling of bags by having more data points on the baggage journey.

2. Recognise your passenger rights

Under the Montreal Convention, airlines are responsible for compensating you if they mishandle your baggage. This treaty is valid for international flights between nations that honour the regulation.

In fact, we enter a contract whenever we choose to check in our baggage. To be precise, it is a contract of carriage. The receipt you get whenever you drop off your bags with the airline is an air waybill. It is a contract with the airline’s guarantee that your items will be shipped from one destination to another. The air waybill also includes a description of your goods (like its weight).

Your air waybill can be used as a certificate of insurance. Under the Convention, compensation for delayed, damaged or lost bags is limited to 1,131 Special Drawing Rights. 1 SDR is equivalent to 1.37 US dollars (accurate as of September 2019).

SDRs are not a currency per se. They are a type of reserve created by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and can be exchanged to foreign currencies.

The limit of 1,131 SDRs may not be enough to cover your belongings. If that’s the case, make a special declaration when you drop off your bags. You will have to pay an extra sum for this. In this scenario, your airline is then liable to pay an amount that is equal to what you declared.

Lastly, airlines usually do not compensate you if you lose your valuables. Cathay Pacific, for instance, states that it will not be liable for the loss, damage or delay of fragile or perishable items, money, cameras, keys and medicines.

3. Report your missing luggage immediately

Your checked bags take anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes after arrival to be delivered, according to Nick Gates, SITA’s portfolio director. If your bags are nowhere in sight after an hour, it’s time to make a missing report.

Look for the airport’s baggage services desk or your airline’s lost-and-found counter. You’ll need to fill up a Property Irregularity Report (PIR) and describe your baggage and its contents. Be as detailed as possible because it will help with the tracking process. The information you provide will be entered into a worldwide computerised baggage tracing system (used by over 500 airlines).

4. Buy your necessities

Being on a business trip with no possessions may well be one of the worst corporate travel experiences anyone can have. Purchase your travel necessities as soon as you can, and spend within reason. No splurging on designer labels!

If you are on an outbound flight and your luggage is missing, the airline has to cover the cost of your necessities. Once again, policies will differ across airlines, and most are strict with their reimbursement.

For instance, Emirates requests that you submit copies of receipts for any necessities you’ve bought as a result of delayed baggage. Lufthansa compensates up to 50 per cent of items that have long-term use, such as outerwear and shoes. Underwear and cosmetics are reimbursed in full.

5. Keep track of the progress

You’ll get a unique reference number after completing the PIR so you can be updated on the bag-checking process.

Most airlines have an online baggage tracker, which makes it easy to receive updates. Qantas and Qatar Airways’ online baggage tracker sites are readily accessible to the public.

6. File a claim

If your luggage does not turn up within 21 days, it is considered lost. Your next step is to file a lost baggage claim online, and as soon as possible.

Different airlines have varying time limits for reporting cases involving luggage, especially for damaged bags. Airlines such as Qantas and United Airlines also state they may not be held liable if the report is delayed.

Another hurdle is that the airline may take days or weeks to get back to you. It would require constant bugging on your end to get your compensation. Meanwhile, what you can do is check on all the coverage that you have, such as credit card travel benefits or travel insurance.

Or if your company has a travel management policy, check if it includes insurance that you can fall back on. That’ll save you the headache of negotiating with airlines for compensation, not to mention a more comprehensive coverage.

If the thought of losing your luggage stresses you out, you are not alone. A study done by CWT Solutions, a travel management consultant, showed that lost or delayed luggage was a major stress factor during their trip.

Such distress may be common, but corporate trips don’t always have to be a chore. If your company doesn’t already have a corporate travel policy, perhaps it’s time to convince them to implement one—especially if you wish to ease the stress that comes with business travel.

7. On your next flight, follow these tips

Yes, the Montreal Convention holds airlines liable for your luggage (and your life, too). And yes, the chances of your luggage being mishandled remains low at 0.6 per cent. Still, it is a bother to deal with all the unpleasantries of mishandled baggage.

Here are some tips to follow to reduce the risk of losing your luggage:

  1. Avoid booking tight layovers: That will give the airport staff more time to transfer your baggage.
  2. Check-in your bags early: Prevent your bags from being placed on a separate flight. If you do early baggage check-in, baggage handlers have more time to load them onto the plane.
  3. Keep a copy of your itinerary and contact details in your bag: Having a backup copy of these essential documents for the airline staff will help in the event your paper luggage tags are torn. Such information also helps to find your bags faster if they’re delayed.
  4. Get location trackers: Use a high-tech luggage tag that has embedded microchips or codes so your bags can be tracked.

Keep your cool

At Qatar Airlines, over 99 per cent of baggage is claimed immediately following a flight. Lufthansa has also said that the majority of their missing baggage are found within 24 hours.

Passenger luggage can be mishandled or lost. But the numbers change every year, and policies are in place for airlines to locate them and to compensate their owners.

So if your time spent waiting by the baggage carousel turns out to be futile, don’t launch into stress mode just yet. Perhaps your bags need a bit more time to reach you.

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