Don’t Leave the Airport
This is critical. If your luggage is lost or damaged, you need to handle it before you leave the airport. This is especially important if you’re on a domestic U.S. carrier. You must report the damage at the airline’s baggage office at the airport within 24 hours. For International flights, the deadline is seven days.
So, even if you’re in a hurry, unless you want to turn around and go back to the airport, your best strategy is to report the problem before you leave. And, take a photo or two of the damage with your phone before reporting to the baggage office.
In fact, it’s a great idea to take a photo of your checked luggage before you leave! That photo will help if your bag is damaged, but even if it is just lost, it will help the airline staff to quickly identify your bag.
Get a Claim Number
You may need to complete a claim form. You’ll need a claim number, which you should get from the Baggage Office personnel. Even if you aren’t asked to complete a form, get the claim number and a copy of their report for tracking purposes.
If Necessary, Write to the Airline
If you’re not getting much help from the baggage office personnel, your next step would be to contact the airline in writing. You have the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) on your side, so don’t take no for an answer. Just refer them to online resources like this one that reinforces that airlines are required to compensate travelers for damage done to any part of a piece of luggage.
Keep in mind that the airlines are only liable for damage caused by their equipment or personnel. If the damage is the result of a defect in the luggage itself, you’ll need to contact the manufacturer for repair or replacement services.
Check Other Resources
It’s possible that your credit card company or homeowner’s/renter’s insurance offers travel or flight insurance.
Like any large organization, airlines don’t move with lightning speed. If you’re convinced you have a reasonable claim, just be patient. It may take weeks or months to get reimbursement.