How to Get Your Luggage Back When the Airline Loses It

You've just arrived in Orlando for a holiday with the in-laws, and your bags are on vacation as well—in South Dakota. Here's how to get your worldly possessions back and get on with your relaxing.

So you're standing at the luggage carousel like an putz. Everybody else on your flight has already gotten their gear and left, as have two flights that landed after yours, but you're still there, silently praying that you bag is just a second away from popping through the hole and tumbling down into your waiting arms. It's not going to happen. Here's what to do.

Blaze a Paper Trail

Do not leave the airport without filing a bag claim with the airline. This is essential because, just as with arguing your way out of BS service fees, filing the claim establishes a clear paper trail of when and where the loss occurred. This is super helpful, as nothing stops service agents from giving you the runaround faster than facts, and you're going to get a good deal of runaround.

There should be a claims office in the baggage claim area, otherwise head over to the reservation desk and file it there. Don't wait to get home, do it immediately. The claim process varies between airlines but you should always include your name, date/time of flight, and flight number on any correspondence you have with the company (again, this helps build a clear paper trail).

Click on the airline name below for the link to its complaint contact.

AirTran - Alaska - American - Delta - Frontier - JetBlue - Hawaiian - Southwest - Spirit - United - US Airways - Virgin America

Don't Hesitate to Escalate

So it's been two days in paradise, you're still wearing the same pants you got off the plane with, and the most helpful response you've received from your airline's customer service so far has been a perfunctory shoulder shrug. It's time to complain louder.

If you've got a problem that you don't feel has been adequately addressed by your airline, file a complaint with the Department of Transportation. As the DoT's Aviation Consumer Protection and Enforcement Bureau explains:

All complaints are entered in DOT's computerized aviation industry monitoring system, and are charged to the company in question in the monthly Air Travel Consumer Report. This report is distributed to the industry and made available to the news media and the general public so that consumers and air travel companies can compare the complaint records of individual airlines and tour operators. These complaints are reviewed to determine the extent to which carriers are in compliance with federal aviation consumer protection regulations. This system also serves as a basis for rulemaking, legislation and research. Where appropriate, letters and web form submissions will be forwarded to an official at the airline for further consideration.

The DoT is a helpful resource if you're looking to play the long game with your airline's incompetent baggage handling. But to get immediate—like now, now—results, nothing beats social media.

When director Kevin Smith got booted off a Southwest flight for being too big to fly, his twitter rant prompted an immediate response from Southwest's PR department and a public apology. When a couple of TSA goons hassled Peter "Chewie" Mayhew over his iconic lightsaber cane, a couple of well-placed tweets got the situation resolved post haste.

And you don't need a huge following like these guys, either. Most airlines are extremely active responding to customer requests over Twitter, including those concerning lost or delayed luggage.

Hunt It Down Yourself

Just because the guy behind the baggage claim counter doesn't know where your bag is, doesn't mean you shouldn't. Numerous products on the market today are designed specifically to ride shotgun in your checked luggage and report their whereabouts on command.

How to Get Your Luggage Back When the Airline Loses It

The Trakdot, for example, announced in January and shipping later this month, uses local cell networks to determine what city your bag is in and relays that information back to your smartphone as a text message. Same with the iTrak, though this system can also call, email, or telex your bag's location. For a less high-tech (and more affordable) solution, the Trace Me luggage tracker is a simple tag with a unique bar code on it. When it's scanned by an airline, law enforcement, or baggage handling representative, you'll receive a text letting you know where it is.

And one final point, don't be a dick to the service reps. They're here to help you, not act as an emotional sponge to your impotent bagless rage. You're going to get what you want a whole lot faster when you treat the person on the other side of the counter like, well, a person. You might even enjoy the rest of your vacation.

[FareCompare via ABC News - Image: Shutterstock/chalabala]