(NEXSTAR) — While thousands have been rushing to take to the skies for some long-awaited traveling, many flyers have faced frustrating flight delays and cancellations. Last weekend alone, a combined 13,500 flights were delayed and hundreds were canceled, upending travel plans for many.
Having your luggage lost, delayed or damaged can only make the travel headache worse. A recent report from the U.S. Department of Transportation shows over 400,000 bags were mishandled by airlines in May – meaning they were lost, damaged, delayed or stolen.
Luckily, federal officials say that equates to 0.56 bags per 100 handled by airlines. But if your bag is mishandled, it’s important to know what to do next.
Regardless of whether your bag has been damaged, delayed or lost, the DOT and each airline say it’s important to report it as soon as possible. Many airlines require a claim to be filed within a certain number of hours or before you leave the airport.
Depending on what happens to your bag, you may be eligible to be reimbursed by your airline. The Transportation Department’s current regulations say airlines are required to compensate you if your luggage is damaged, delayed, or lost.
When it comes to damaged luggage on domestic flights, airlines are allowed to limit their liability in compensating you, with the maximum set at $3,800. Airlines are, however, permitted to pay more than the federal limit. On most international flights, the maximum liability is about $1,780.
If your luggage is damaged, the airline is responsible for repairing it or reimbursing you for the damages, or the contents that were within the bag at the time. There are, of course, caveats. If your bag was damaged before being given to the airline, or if it was damaged because you improperly packed it, the DOT says airlines aren’t responsible for repairing it or repaying you.
While standard wear and tear to your luggage can’t be considered damage, any damage to the wheels, handles, straps, or other parts of your luggage cannot be excluded from liability.
Some items, like those that are fragile or perishable, may be excluded from liability by an airline. On domestic flights, the DOT says airlines are not required to compensate you for items they’ve excluded. For example, Spirit Airlines does not cover items such as electronics and medicine.
The rule is slightly different for international flights: airlines are responsible for all items they agree to transport, regardless of if the passenger disclosed it.
Airlines are also responsible for finding your luggage if it doesn’t arrive at your destination. You should file a baggage claim with the airline as soon as possible, the DOT advises, and stay in close contact with the airline afterward.
Following the same maximum liability for damaged luggage, the DOT requires airlines to compensate you for “reasonable, verifiable, and actual incidental expense” you may face while waiting for your bags.
If you fly with Delta, for example, and paid for a checked bag, you may be eligible for a travel voucher for the amount you paid if you don’t receive your bag within 12 hours of a reported delay. For the first five days that your bag is delayed, Delta will, generally, provide a reimbursement of $50 a day if you had to make purchases.
In the worst-case scenario where your luggage is missing, your airline has to compensate you for your bag’s contents, subject to depreciation and the maximum liability of $3,800, according to the DOT. You should also be refunded for any fees you paid to have the airline transport the bag.
Airlines may require you to prove the costs of the items within the lost luggage. Taking photos of your bag and the contents inside could be helpful to both find the bag or prove the value of its contents later.
While most airlines will call your luggage “lost” between 5 and 14 days after your flight, it can vary from one to another. Other factors, such as whether your flight was domestic or international, if more than one airline was responsible for the flight, and the airline’s ability to search for the luggage, can impact whether your luggage is declared lost.
An airline that “unreasonably refuses” to declare your bag lost after “an unreasonable period of time” could face federal enforcement action, according to the DOT. Consumer complaints can be filed with the DOT online.
Travel insurance and some credit cards may also help cover the costs of lost or delayed luggage.