Is Lost Luggage a Lost Cause?

by Chris Bjorklund

Airports are legally required to collect lost or abandoned luggage. Photo: CC0 Creative Commons ©2019

Have you ever lost your luggage at an airport? I’m not talking about leaving it on the plane or not finding it on the baggage claim carousel. Have you ever left a bag in the airport’s economy parking lot? If so, there’s a good chance you’ll see it again, but it won’t be easy. So, how do you start tracking it down?

Fortunately, this happens to jet-lagged travelers pretty frequently, so airports have a process for bags that are accidentally left behind. (I speak from very recent experience!) The best thing you can do is go back to the airport parking lot or the terminal (if you can) and start talking to people who work there. If that’s not practical right away, start searching for the Lost & Found department on the airport’s website (not the airline’s website) and make lots of phone calls. Once you find the department, if it’s after hours, you’ll have to leave a detailed message about the lost luggage, including a physical description; where and when it was left; and any other identifying information like your baggage tag, name, and address.

The other good news is that airport workers are legally required to pick up “abandoned” items and turn them in to be searched before they go into the Lost & Found. Any unaccompanied bag is treated with suspicion and considered a security threat. In my case, we tracked down the bag at Oakland International Airport by the second day. Someone had turned it into the sheriff, TSA searched it and we were able to claim it with proper identification. I was thrilled to recover everything!

Other airports have their own unique procedures for lost and found situations in the terminals and parking lots. And note that when airlines permanently lose checked bags, they’re governed by Department of Transportation regulations. The maximum an airline will pay you for losing your luggage is $3,500 on a domestic flight and $1,600 on an international flight. However, most bags are recovered and returned within two days.