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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.

  • Cinimo says:

    On a short hop in the carribean from St Lucia to Bequia via Union Island, as we were about to start taxing to leave Union Island my wife noticed out of the window, one of our bags on the trolley on the ground. We told the pilot. He stopped, opened the window, shouted at the baggage handler that they had taken the wrong bag off the plane who put it back on. Checked with us and the other 2 passangers how many bags we had and that they were in the plane. And off we flew 5 minutes later.

    If we hadn’t noticed the bag being left, I don’t think we would have ever seen it again…

  • Londonsteve says:

    Never had a bag lost on a point-to-point LCC flight. I never understood why statistically it’s so much higher to go missing when flying with a mainline carrier through a hub airport, even though you’re still on a point-to-point flight.

  • martin says:

    Its not just BA I had the same issue with Swiss Air in March. As always no one wants to talk to you or has any information. This is not rocket science. When BA sell a seat we put in how much luggage is going with you. If you cant fulfil your contract BA and knowingly still accept my payment and allow me on your plane then you should be hit with breach of contract and have to pay out real money. If you don’t have the ability to process baggage then don’t sell the ticket.

  • SBIre says:

    Slightly different, but in case it is useful to anyone – my mother had huge trouble with a missing bag at Heathrow a few years ago when one of the Aer Lingus check in staff sent it off on the conveyer belt without attaching any of the bag tags to it. They both realised right away but nothing could be done at the time, so she had to fly without it. No one could then find the bag, and everyone (Aer Lingus, Menzies, Heathrow themselves) kept passing the buck. I eventually had to go to Heathrow one Saturday and spent about 5 hours asking at every desk and official I could find. Eventually someone took pity on me, and was curious to find out for themselves so started to help. We found out that a third party company picked it up, and were holding it. Once 90 days were up they were going to sell it at auction – this happens to all unclaimed luggage, lost property etc. I think it Global Baggage Services now. They ignored her name, number and address on the bag’s built in tag, and simply noted it as a case with women’s clothing, a phone charger and hair dryer. I was not allowed to see it to confirm, they would only send it to Ireland to her – but luckily it was the correct bag. This was before air tags!

    • Bagoly says:

      Sent off without tag happened to me in Narita.
      They said “Don’t worry – we’ll deal with it”.
      I said – “I’m not moving until I see it back here with the tag on”.
      They brought it up.
      Admittedly the automation level was less in those days.

  • Bonglim says:

    Thanks a very good article.

    Another smaller article would be good about the terrible way BA now handles damaged bags – it has changed and unsurprisingly not for the better.

    My brand new bag was damaged recently. It was brand new because before the pandemic my last bag was damaged and they replaced it with a new version of the same bag – and it was our first long-haul trip since.

    But now it was passed over to a different insurance company. They were very clear that they had to take account of the expected wear and tear which apparently still applies even if it is brand new.

    Anyway – the branded bag is £200 to replace, they offered me 3 different suitcases from brands I have never heard of. The website they sent me details of the bags listed them as 60 80 and 120 pounds, but I’m sure they would be cheaper elsewhere.
    I didn’t accept that and they have now ‘passed the case back to BA’ who have not yet replied to me.

    I suspect it will be a long fight to get my bag replaced.

    • JDB says:

      Your home insurance should replace the bag on a new for old basis and collect the payment from BA. In these instances, good home insurance should provide the real cover as airlines often won’t pay the real cost of damaged luggage and travel insurance cover is often or even usually insufficient for cover of any single item of value including your luggage or contents in general.

      • Bonglim says:

        That makes some sense but – my home insurance is really expensive – based on having a lot of high value contents. And it has a high excess because I have separate excess cover for up to 1000 pounds.

        Together that makes claiming on my home insurance uneconomical as the premium increases would likely far exceed the relatively low cost of the bag.

        And most of all – BA does have a duty of care to look after the bag once it is in their care. If they (or the people who they subcontract) fail to care for the bag – they should compensate for that failure.

        In reality the cost of the bag and the difference in the offer/ value of the bag is not that important to me – it is the principal of their new stance.

  • Baggins Surrey says:

    Is it just BA that has the issue? A friend is due to fly in a couple of weeks to Antigua from Heathrow with Virgin, which will be 3rd time trying to get there. I want to warn her if lack of staff will mean her knickers will be holidaying in Hayes rather than the Caribbean and suggest an Air Tag, Maybe Rob can sort a deal with Apple as we plan to purchase some and it sounds like others will too.

    • JDB says:

      An Air Tag may tell you where your luggage is, but it won’t get it back to you any quicker. Telling BA your Air Tag says the luggage is in Brussels or wherever won’t get them looking there…the luggage issue is affecting most airlines as the handling companies are suffering the same departure/recruitment issues as BA.

  • davefl says:

    Not just bags that get lost. One airline managed to lose my dad’s body after he died in Turkey.

    I spent 14 hours overnight at a deserted MAN asking/searching/waiting until he was located in the cargo area somewhere off the M56. He should have been at EMA with my uncle who had supposedly travelled on the same flight. We never did find out how they loaded him on an aircraft to the wrong destination.

  • Callum says:

    When BA delayed my luggage a few years ago they made it incredibly easy.

    I just filled out a form, submitted the receipt and they credited my bank account within days.

    In fact, I bought clothes and toiletries from Tesco (I don’t have expensive tastes…) at the same time as buying £50 of groceries and they credited me for the groceries too! I thought they may have questioned a need for the items as I was arriving at my “home” airport but it never came up.

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