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What happens when British Airways loses your luggage or leaves it behind?

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock you will have seen the widespread travel chaos that has been unfolding at airports nationwide over the past two weeks.

The Easter school holidays have been the busiest travel period in two years and airlines and airports have been struggling to cope.

This is partly because both have faced unprecedented ramp-ups from operating skeleton schedules during the Christmas Omicron wave to operating near to full capacity in April. It is also partly down to lack of staff exacerbated by covid redundancies, a highly competitive job market and increased processing times for staff security clearance (I’ve seen four months mentioned online).

British Airways lost baggage

All of the above has culminated in a travel season that airlines are hoping to forget – even if it’s the busiest they’ve been in the past two years.

Nevertheless, I was loath to waste a four day bank holiday at home so my brother and I decided to visit my grandparents in Stuttgart, flying out on Thursday evening.

Let’s start with the good news ….

…. which is that check in and security at Heathrow Terminal 5 were a breeze.

In fact, I don’t think I’ve seen Terminal 5 more ‘normal’ that I did on Thursday. There were plenty of flyers but virtually no queues. With many countries removing covid restrictions and ditching passenger locator forms, the burden on check-in staff has reduced significantly and they can return to what they do best – ie. check in customers.

Airside, Terminal 5 was once again heaving with passengers – a return to the pre-covid status quo – including the lounges. It was almost impossible for me and my brother to find a pair of seats together in Galleries First.

Compared to the gigantic security queues and delays seen at airports previously in the week, everything seemed normal. Unfortunately it was anything but normal ….

British Airways lost luggage

Help! British Airways left my bags at Heathrow

Deep within the bowels of Terminal 5 British Airways was (and largely still is) dealing with a staffing crisis, and Thursday was a particular crunch point. BA managers instructed baggage handlers to prioritise long haul flights, which meant many short haul flights were going out without luggage being loaded.

Thirteen flights on Thursday went without bags, and unfortunately Stuttgart was one of those affected. It was also delayed by two hours ….

What is bizarre is that nobody operating the flight seemed to know of the baggage issue, even though I had been warned that my flight was one of the thirteen nominated to go without being loaded:

  • The gate staff didn’t know
  • The head loader didn’t know
  • The flight crew didn’t know

Even the pilots didn’t seem to be aware, because no announcement was made at any point during the flight.

The first confirmation I had that my bag had, indeed, been left at Heathrow was with a text from British Airways upon landing:

“We’re very sorry that your bag didn’t arrive on time when you landed today. Please complete a baggage report form online here https://www.britishairways.com/travel/your-missing-baggage/public/en_gb#/report-missing-baggage and make sure you keep your receipts for any essential items you may need to purchase in the time you’re without your bag. If you need to claim back any essential costs you’ve incurred, you can do this at ba.com/helpme. We’re sorry again for any inconvenience this may cause. We’re doing our best to get your bag to you as soon as possible.”

64 checked bags hadn’t been loaded. Oops.

There was also some confusion in Stuttgart at the luggage carousel. Lots of passengers clearly hadn’t checked their phones and were understandably confused. Fortunately, one of the airport staff knew what was going on.

British Airways BA tailfins heathrow T5

How to report your lost or delayed luggage to British Airways

The good news is that BA’s lost baggage portal is surprisingly thorough. You can report your bag delayed here with your name and bag tag identification number. The website will also ask you for identifying features in case the luggage tag is lost, including:

  • type of bag (trolley, duffle, other etc)
  • the colour and material
  • external descriptive elements (eg. bag tag)
  • a distinctive item inside the bag

I was able to report our bags missing within ten minutes on the train into town and received a log of the report.

You can also choose between getting the bags delivered to your home address, a third party address or to the airport where you can pick them up yourself. I chose the second.

What compensation and reimbursement can you get for lost or delayed luggage?

Once you’ve filed the report it’s worth checking what your insurance coverage includes, as you are likely to need to buy some emergency clothes and toiletries.

In this case I was covered by my American Express Business Platinum Card. This came with £300 cover for essential items on a delay of four hours or more followed by a further £300 after 48 hours.

If your insurance does not come with delayed luggage cover then it is also possible to claim from British Airways, although the process is likely to be more of a fight.

Unfortunately, as it was the Easter weekend, I wasn’t able to buy any essential items until Saturday when all the shops reopened. Our bags still hadn’t been delivered so we bought some underwear, t-shirts and other bits and bobs.

How long does it take British Airways to deliver a bag?

The delayed baggage portal claims that most bags are returned within 72 hours. In the end, we got our bags back two and a half days later.

To be fair to British Airways, Germany basically shuts down entirely over the Easter break (they take their bank holidays very seriously).

One of the most frustrating parts of the experience was the lack of communication. Once I had filed the report the portal indicated that are bags were still being searched for:

BA delayed baggage

To make things even more confusing, there is a second baggage portal called worldtracer.aero that some of BA’s communication refers to. Using the same login details, the WorldTracer portal suggested that my bags would be on the next flight to Stuttgart on the following day, indicating that my bags had been found.

It would have been nice for the luggage portal to indicate this and to update the status to something like ‘in transit’ or similar, but frustratingly no progress was shown. If I hadn’t put on my detective hat I would have been very much in the dark.

There was no confirmation that the bags had arrived on the following flight. Again, I was left wondering whether they had made it and I would receive them soon or whether I would have to spend another day without.

Eventually, they were assigned a courier in WorldTracer but – again – no estimated delivery date was given. When I tried to call the Stuttgart Ground Services number given nobody picked up – the phone line had been closed for covid security reasons ….

It was with some relief that I got a phone call on our third day in Stuttgart from the Ground Services to let me know they were planning to deliver that morning. A true Easter miracle!

Even now, though, the BA baggage portal still suggests that the bags are on their way …. even though they were delivered two days ago.

Recap: how to report delayed baggage to British Airways

Here is the process for reporting lost or delayed baggage:

  1. Report the delayed or missing baggage to British Airways via the luggage portal here.
  2. Check your insurance policy for delayed luggage coverage
  3. Buy essential items if necessary, keeping all receipts
  4. Receive your luggage from British Airways (hopefully!)
  5. Begin your insurance claim, either with your insurer or BA

There is a 21-day cut off for reporting delayed or missing baggage, so it’s best to do this as soon as possible. Luggage is officially lost if it hasn’t arrived within 21 days.

Communication, communication and …. communication

So, what have we learned? Whilst BA’s luggage portal got off to a good start, the lack of status updates was incredibly frustrating as we were basically left in the dark on the whereabouts of our luggage and an estimated delivery window.

These days, most couriers are able to give pretty accurate status updates and delivery estimates when you order something online – why can’t airlines do the same?

I accept the issue is slightly more complex – British Airways has to deal with hundreds of third party ground service companies, and integrating all these into a single system sounds like hard work. But it seems like a solvable problem – after all, the bags already have luggage tags on them!

With a simple scanner you’d think BA and ground handlers would be able to scan the bags at every stage of their journey and send updates to customers. It’s something that would take a lot of frustration out of an already-frustrating experience.

Even something as easy as having the pilots announce the issue during the flight would have ensured a much less confusing experience, with pilots or crew helping to explain next steps to passengers.


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Comments (151)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • chrism20 says:

    This might be a daft question but wouldn’t it be better to send the domestics with no luggage rather than European short haul? At least then the bags could be sent onwards by road courier straight from LHR if required and people would probably get their bags quicker.

    • Lady London says:

      Guessing shorthaul might be chosen to leave the baggage behind on as (1) it’s not longhaul (2) domestic flights more likely to have baggage that’s come in on longhaul flights connecting to domestic, rather than to shorthaul?

  • BP says:

    My bag has went missing twice now when travelling from Glasgow to London. Both times BA has paid out no problem.

    On one of the occasions I had travelled the evening before work in jeans, a t-shirt and trainers so had to buy workwear. I claimed for a suit, shoes, 2 shirts, belt, socks, boxers, t-shirt and toiletries. It was all from M&S so not expensive stuff but still over £500.

    I found the claims process simple and it took about 2.5 weeks to get the payout.

  • S says:

    Flying LHR>YYZ in a couple of weeks and holding out little hope that they will have resolved this mess by then!

    OT: flying the return YYZ>LHR>NCL in WTP which has necessarily made the domestic leg CE (it’s as much as I can get work to pay for!)

    Am I right in thinking T5 arrivals lounge will be off limits but Galleries North/South accessible with the CE domestic leg? Not flown this combo before.

    • Rhys says:

      It’s already back to normalish now.

    • Stu N says:

      If your domestic is CE you won’t have access to lounge in YYZ or arrivals in Heathrow, which is landside anyway. You will have access to Galleries lounges though.

      If you want a shower and there’s a long wait in T5 main lounges, you should be able to get one at T5B lounge if you’ve got 90 mins or more before your NCL flight leaves. You will need to walk back via tunnels but they are well signposted nowadays.

  • Littlefish says:

    Great article, thanks Rhys. Sensible user experience info up-to-date and in one place.
    One point from me. Its one of my bugbears that companies (and writers :)) assume people will have an operating phone when landing in a foreign land. I don’t (simply settings forbid) and many others choose not to risk roaming rates.
    Airplane mode on and use of WiFi is the way to go for many. Hence, comms by texts is going to miss a large part of the Stuttgart baggage carousel audience. At least some companies are now asking if I prefer a WhatsApp message (or such like).
    Hopefully BA and their new baggage / tracer app will allow comms by more than text.

    • BP says:

      Why not just turn data roaming off? Then you can receive texts at no cost but wont be hit by extortionate data fees.

      • John says:

        I don’t expect to receive texts so if I don’t need to use data I stay in airplane mode + wifi.

        • jjoohhnn says:

          Well you do provide your contact details to the airline.. so how do you expect them to contact you if they need to? 🙂

  • Bob says:

    Happened to me last Thursday as well with a BA/Iberia code share flight from T5. They even added an extra treat of opening my box of Fortnum’s chocolates as reported here: https://twitter.com/BobbyTang/status/1514732583187320832?s=20&t=rC5uA7bDD8GMnIHw7Fny9w

    • Gordon says:

      WOW…. I didn’t think that sort of thing happened anymore.Hope you get a satisfactory conclusion.

    • Lady London says:

      That’s disgusting. I hope you kept further twitters public.

      What did they settle for?

      • Bob says:

        Still waiting for some final results. Luckily I have AMEX Platinum covering quite a bit (£300pp for a family of 3), but it doesn’t truly offset a half-ruined holiday without luggage for nearly 3 nights given I had to spend time shopping for essentials instead of sightseeing.

  • Frances Morris says:

    And be careful with what is regarded as essential. I flew to attend a black tie dinner… no bags, no dress. Had to buy a dress which BA claimed wasn’t essential and refused to pay for. It was the sole reason for travelling!!

    • BP says:

      How much was the dress? A £280 suit was accepted as being reasonable. I’d have fought them on that one as clearly the dress was reasonable given the circumstances.

      • Lady London says:

        I’d have done them for evening shoes and makeup as well. If I was feeling kind I might have let them off the hair stuff.

  • Jonathan says:

    What is the best Amex card to get with the lowest annual fee that comes with their Travel Inconvenience Insurance ?

    I think the Green charge card has the lowest annual fee, but offers little in return other than the usual 1MR point per £1 spent, the Marriott Bonvoy card has a marginally higher fee, but better benefits, although a lot of these are only really useful if you use Marriott hotels a lot, not really particularly great if you don’t…

    Rob and or Rhys, your opinions please ? Thank you

    • Rhys says:

      The insurance coverage varies from card to card. BA Premium Plus has one of the highest allowances for delayed baggage.

      • Jonathan says:

        If you can’t spend enough to get the 241 voucher or if it’s no use to you because you normally travel solo, the £250 annual fee is quite a chunk

  • SamG says:

    I’ve had two missing bags in recent memory – both turned out rather well. The first was Silkair from Singapore to Koh Samui. They were most surprised by this as it doesn’t get more simple an trip than that! They announced my name at the airport as soon as we landed as Changi had sent word ahead that they still had the bag.

    Many apologies and a decent wedge of Thai baht given out at the airport and a promise to bring the bag the next day otherwise I could pick up some more cash then or when I left the island. Was travelling with two other guys so borrowed some swimming trunks and bought some flip flops which is about all one needs on a Thai island and it did indeed turn up the next day on the back of a pick up truck.

    The second was a bag of winter clothes and bits I didn’t need in Singapore as a precurser to moving back to the UK. Arrived here Friday morning, it didn’t make the transit in Istanbul to AtlasGlobal (RIP, great connection time to the 45000 mile SQ miles SIN-IST flight) and they didn’t dispatch/deliver on the weekends. Had it sent directly to my parents on the Wednesday which saved me lugging it around my weekend plans and I claimed something like S$1500 for a delayed bag from my travel insurance when all I’d had to buy was a pair of shoes for a wedding!

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