Lost luggage? Here’s what you should do

With thousands of flights canceled by Southwest Airlines over the past week, many travelers who had their plans changed at the last minute have lost track of their luggage.

It’s a frustrating experience to endure, but passengers need to stay proactive if they want to receive what they’re entitled to.

“Basically, you file a claim at the airport and they give you a claim number,” said Eric Hrubant, president of the travel agency CIRE Travel. “Do not lose your claim number, because that’s the most important thing.”

Passengers can use that number to track the airline’s progress in finding their luggage.

“You can go to their website and see the progress,” Hrubant said. “You need to keep checking the website, if not calling the airline with that claim number.”

In the meantime, travelers should keep receipts of everything they need to buy as a result of their bag being gone, as airlines are required to compensate passengers not only if a bag is completely lost, but if it is delayed.

The U.S. Department of Transportation requires airlines to pay out a maximum of $3,800 per bag for domestic flights, although airlines can pay more than the limit if they want.

“Every airline has their own rules about reimbursements,” Hrubant said.

Southwest added a page to its website specifically for stranded travelers, and it invited customers to submit receipts for unexpected expenses. The airline said it would consider reimbursing “reasonable” expenses for meals, hotel rooms and alternate transportation incurred between Dec. 24 and Jan. 2.

A good rule for every flight is, never put anything too important in a checked bag.

“Never pack your medicine or your computer,” said Hrubant. “Anything that you need to physically survive or work should be on your person at all times.”

Southwest declined to say how many people have been affected, but it is likely that far more than 1 million have had a flight canceled.

The airline scrapped more than 13,000 flights since Dec. 22, according to tracking service FlightAware.

Airline executives said that crew-scheduling technology — a major cause of the meltdown — has now caught up with the backlog of pilots and flight attendants stranded in wrong locations.

The federal government is investigating what happened. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg took fresh swipes at the airline Thursday, tweeting that he would hold Southwest responsible for “unacceptable performance.”

He asked people to file a report if Southwest fails to reimburse them for travel costs.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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