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3 Steps to Take When an Airline Destroys Your Luggage


Frequent flyers might expect periodic travel hiccups when you travel with checked luggage. Usually, your bag arrives at the airport at a different time than you do. While being disconnected from your baggage is a minor inconvenience, it pales in comparison when your luggage is ruined.

While there are plenty of ways to prepare for a good flight, the airline is responsible for protecting your checked luggage. Unfortunately, though, mishaps happen and some things are out of your control. However, that doesn’t mean you’re helpless if the airline damages your luggage.

Below are three steps you can take to help recoup your losses.

1. Notify The Airline Immediately

As soon as you receive your bag, inspect it thoroughly for signs of damage before you leave the baggage claim area. It’s easiest to notify the airline at the airport immediately as most airlines require in-person notification.

If you notice abnormal damage besides “normal wear and tear,” perform these actions:

  • Take photos of the damage to your luggage and packed contents
  • Take pictures of the luggage barcode tags
  • Create an inventory of the damaged items
  • Try to determine the cause of damage

Another point to consider is if the damage stems from the airline or the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). If the TSA damaged your bag during an inspection, you will need to file a claim with them.

Completing these first steps helps you prepare for the initial conversation with the airline. You will be able to physically show all of the damage locations and how many items are damaged.

This is especially important because if you notice additional damage after the initial report (like in the inside of the bag), the airline likely won’t let you file a second claim. It is possible for the airline representative to add notes to your claim for further consideration, but will vary by airline.  

Visit the Airline Baggage Service Office

After inspecting your bag and logging the damage, your first course of action is speaking to an airline baggage service representative immediately to avoid a follow-up trip to the airport. If you notify the airline by phone, they will likely require you to bring your damaged bag to the in-airport baggage service office.

If the baggage service office is closed, go to the check-in counter to start the claim process.

If you have already left the airport, call the airline customer service to notify them about the damage. The customer service representative will tell you the next step to take. 

The airline will give you a claim number and require you to complete paperwork. Your paperwork might be digital and emailed to you. If so, finish these forms as soon as possible to expedite the claims process.

Pay Attention to Notification Deadlines

Also, airlines only give you a specific number of hours to report a claim. Southwest Airlines has one of the most narrow notification windows. You must report the damage in-person within four hours of arrival.   

The legacy carriers — American, Delta, and United — allow up to 24 hours for domestic flights and seven days for international flights.

These three carriers almost always require you to visit the local airport office if your bag is damaged on domestic flights. For international travel, you might be able to mail it in. Despite the many similarities, each airline has its own unique damaged baggage policy.

2. Keep All Damaged Items

Keep all of the damaged items, luggage tags, and documentation until the airline finalizes the claim. The airline may have you mail your damaged items to an inspection center using a prepaid shipping label.

If you ship your items offer, the airline may decide to repair or replace your damaged items. It’s possible that you can get an exact replacement if your item is new enough.

Total processing time can differ for each claim as airlines handle each incident on an individual basis. The baggage service agent and the claim paperwork includes personalized instructions and airline contact information.   

Depending on the damage and final outcome, the airline may require you to mail your bag to a facility to be repaired. The airline may cover all associated costs.

Airline Liability Limitations

While your claim is pending, it’s not a bad idea to brush up on the airline’s damaged bag policy. Look for the coverage limits and the qualifying events. 

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, U.S. airlines are liable for up to $3,500 in damages on domestic flights. However, you may only receive compensation up to $1,780 for incidents on international travel. 

Also, items packed improperly and carry-on items may not qualify for airline reimbursement. High-value items including laptops, jewelry, and antiques may not be covered.

3. Use Credit Card Baggage Insurance

If the airline doesn’t cover all of the damage, the best backup option is using travel insurance benefits. Your go-to travel credit card may have built-in checked baggage insurance benefits. The best credit card reviews can help you narrow down the options that best suit you. It’s possible to file a claim when you purchase the entire ticket fare with one credit card. 

The credit card baggage insurance benefits are secondary to the airline coverage. However, these additional benefits can still reimburse your incidental expenses like clothing and toiletries. 

The best credit cards cover up to $3,000 per person. Some policies may also reimburse lost jewelry, electronics, and even lost or delayed luggage. These benefits may extend to your immediate family traveling with you as well. 

Your credit card company may require you to notify them of your damaged baggage within 20 days of the incident. You will need to provide additional documentation to complete the claim process. This information can include:

  • Credit card statement showing proof of fare purchase
  • Flight itinerary
  • Claim number information
  • Copy of any reimbursement or denial received from the airline
  • Copy of any personal insurance claims
  • Receipts for qualified, essential purchases 

Each credit card has a different lost and damaged baggage policy. Reading your card’s benefits guide before you call can give you an idea of what you can claim.

If you happen to have a standalone travel insurance policy, those benefits may help as well.

Seeing your damaged bag at the baggage claim can easily turn into a travel nightmare. The best action you can take is keeping a personal record of the damage and immediately notifying the airline. After that, you will need to navigate the claims process to receive proper compensation. 

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