While most airline passengers' checked luggage meets them at their destination on time, there are instances when a bag is lost, delayed or damaged.
What happens if my luggage is damaged?
According to the USDOT, airlines are responsible for repairing or reimbursing you for damaged bags and/or the contents inside while they're in possession of the airline during your travels.
However, there are limits on what the airline is responsible for, and airlines are not responsible for bags that were already damaged or if the damage occurred due to improper packing.
If the bag cannot be repaired, the airline will negotiate compensation based on the value of the bag and its description.
What happens if my luggage is delayed?
An airline is responsible for locating your luggage when it doesn't arrive at your destination, and they have tracking systems to try to identify where the bag is located.
According to the USDOT, some airlines have apps that can provide you with information about the location of your bag, which may be helpful to use.
And if your bag is delayed, you should file a baggage claim with the airline as soon as possible.
It's also important to remain in close contact with the airline after filing your claim while the bag is located.
Airlines are also required to compensate passengers for "reasonable, verifiable and incidental expenses" resulting from a delayed bag, which is also subject to liability limits.
But be aware that airlines cannot provide a daily amount of compensation while you wait for a delayed bag.
What happens if my luggage is lost by an airline?
While airlines may have different policies in place to determine when a bag is officially lost, most will make that determination between 5 to 14 days after a flight, but it's best to check with your airline directly.
The USDOT says it depends on the type of itinerary (domestic or international travel), if more than one airline is responsible for your bag, and other factors before an airline declares your bag officially lost.
It's important to note that if an airline refuses to declare your bag lost after an appropriate amount of time, that airline could be subject to action by the USDOT.
When your bag is officially declared to be lost, an airline is responsible for compensating you for what was inside the bag. But that compensation is subject to depreciation and maximum liability limits, according to the USDOT.
What are an airline's limits on baggage liability?
For domestic travel, USDOT regulations state airlines are allowed to limit their liability for your bag if it's lost, damaged or delayed. Still, they can provide you with more compensation than the limit states.
The maximum liability amount that is allowed by USDOT regulations is $3,800.
For international travel, that limit is approximately $1,780, but the airline can provide you with more compensation if they choose to do so.
Limits are slightly different for assistive devices that are lost, damaged or delayed.
For domestic travel, an airline is responsible for its original purchase price of the assistive device if lost. If it's damaged, the airline is responsible for the cost of repairing the device.
For international travel, those liability limits are set by the appropriate international treaties.