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).
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 ….
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.
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:
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:
- Report the delayed or missing baggage to British Airways via the luggage portal here.
- Check your insurance policy for delayed luggage coverage
- Buy essential items if necessary, keeping all receipts
- Receive your luggage from British Airways (hopefully!)
- 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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EDIT: Applications for this card are temporarily suspended due to IT issues with the British Airways On Business SME loyalty scheme.
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