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Lost, Delayed, or Damaged Baggage

While the vast majority of airline passengers’ checked bags arrive at their destination on time and in the condition received, a passengers’ bag may occasionally become damaged, delayed, or lost in transit.  Under DOT regulations (for domestic travel) and international treaties (for international travel), airlines are required to compensate passengers if their bags are damaged, delayed, or lost.  You can find tips on how to pack, check-in, and claim your luggage to minimize the chance of damage, delay, or loss in DOT’s Fly Rights publication here.

Damaged Baggage

What are airlines’ responsibilities when they damage your baggage?

  • Airlines are responsible for repairing or reimbursing a passenger for damaged baggage and/or its contents when the damage occurs while the bag is under the airline’s control during transportation (subject to maximum limits on liabilities).

  • Airlines are not responsible for pre-existing damage to the bag or if the damage was caused by improper packing.

  • When the damage to the bag cannot be repaired, airlines will negotiate a compensation amount based on the value of the bag and its depreciation.

Can the airlines exclude liability for certain items?

  • Airlines often exclude liability for certain categories of items (for example: fragile items, electronics, cash, perishable items, other valuables, etc.).  These exclusions are typically listed in the airlines’ contracts of carriage.

  • For DOMESTIC travel, airlines are not required to compensate passengers for items they have excluded in their contracts of carriage.

  • For INTERNATIONAL travel (including the domestic segment of an international itinerary), airlines are responsible for these items if they have accepted them for transportation.  This applies even if passengers did not disclose, when they checked-in, that these items were packed in the bag.

  • Passengers may wish to consider purchasing additional insurance for valuable items.

What about damage to the wheels, handles, or straps of baggage?

  • Although airlines are not required to cover fair wear and tear, airlines cannot exclude liability for damage to wheels, handles, straps, and other components of checked baggage. 

Delayed Baggage

What should a passenger do if his or her bag is missing after taking a flight

  • When a checked bag does not arrive at its destination, airlines are responsible for locating the bag.  Airlines have tracking systems in place to try to identify the bag’s location.  

  • Some airlines now offer applications for cell phones, tablets, and other electronic devices, which provide passengers with data on the location of their baggage.  It may be helpful to use this technology to locate your baggage, if available.

  • Passengers should file a baggage claim with their airline as soon as possible

  • Passengers should stay in close communication with the airline after filing a claim and during the baggage location process. 

What are airlines’ responsibilities when your bag is delayed?

  • Airlines are required to compensate passengers for reasonable, verifiable, and actual incidental expenses that they may incur while their bags are delayed - subject to the maximum liability limits.

  • Airlines are not allowed to set an arbitrary daily amount for interim expenses.  For example, an airline cannot have a policy that they will reimburse a passenger up to only $50 for each day that a passenger’s bag is delayed.

Lost Baggage

When does an airline consider a bag lost?

  • Airlines may have different policies to determine when a bag is officially lost.  Most airlines will declare a bag lost between five and fourteen days after the flight, but this can vary from one airline to another.

  • Whether your bag is declared lost may also depend on the type of itinerary (international vs. domestic), whether more than one airline is responsible for the flight, the airline’s searching mechanism, and other circumstances.

  • If an airline unreasonably refuses to consider a bag lost after it has been missing for an unreasonable period of time, the airline could be subject to enforcement action by the DOT.

What are the airlines’ responsibilities when your bag is lost?

  • Once an airline determines that your bag is lost, the airline is responsible for compensating you for your bags’ contents - subject to depreciation and maximum liability limits.

  • Airlines are also required to refund any fees you paid the airline to transport the bag that was lost.

  • Airlines may require receipts or other proof for valuable items that were in the lost bags.

Limits on Baggage Liability

Domestic Baggage Liability

  • For DOMESTIC flights, DOT regulation allows airlines to limit their liability for a lost, damaged, or delayed bag. Airlines are free to pay more than the limit, but are not required to do so.

  • The maximum liability amount allowed by the regulation is $3,800 per passenger.

International Baggage Liability

  • For most INTERNATIONAL flights, a treaty called the Montreal Convention applies to the carriage of baggage.  The maximum baggage liability for flights covered by the Montreal Convention is currently 1,288 Special Drawing Rights (approximately $1,700.00 US) per passenger.  This is the most that airlines must pay a passenger for a lost, damaged, or delayed bag.  Airlines are free to pay more than the limit, but are not required to do so.

  • In the few situations when the Montreal Convention does not apply to travel to and from the United States, an older treaty called the “Warsaw Convention” may apply.

Assistive Devices

An assistive device is any piece of equipment that assists a passenger with a disability in coping with the effects of his or her disability.  These devices are intended to assist passengers with a disability to hear, see, communicate, maneuver, or perform other functions of daily life.  Assistive devices include (but are not limited to):

  • Crutches, Canes, and Walkers

  • Braces/Prosthetics

  • Wheelchairs

  • Hearing aids

  • Portable Oxygen Concentrators (POCs)

  • Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machines

  • Prescription medications and any medical devices needed to administer those medications, such as syringes or auto-injectors

Note:  If you are not sure if your device is an assistive device, contact your airline’s disability or special assistance desk.

  • Assistive devices used by passengers with disabilities that are lost or damaged  during DOMESTIC air travel are not subject to the rules limiting liability for lost or damaged baggage. On domestic flights, airlines’ liability for lost or damaged assistive devices is the original purchase price of the assistive device.  If an airline destroys or loses a $20,000 assistive device during a domestic flight, the airline is liable for $20,000. If an airline damages but doesn’t destroy a $20,000 assistive device, then the airline is liable for the damage up to the cost of original purchase price.

  • Assistive devices used by passengers with disabilities that are lost or damaged during INTERNATIONAL air travel are subject to the maximum liability limit set by the applicable international treaty. 

  • When a passenger’s wheelchair or other assistive device must be disassembled for stowage during air transportation, the airline must return the assistive device in the same condition in which the airline accepted it, including making necessary repairs if the device is damaged.


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