As the winter holidays draw to a close, travelers across the United States have found themselves stranded due to unprecedented logistical issues across virtually every major airline. Although many of the travel delays were initially caused by weather conditions that made it challenging to fly into and out of destinations, Southwest Airlines found themselves crippled by understaffing and an antiquated scheduling system. Airline employees found themselves unable to communicate with supervisors, leading to chaos as plane after plane suddenly lacked the ground crew, flight attendants, and pilots to safely take to the air. 

As travelers find themselves unable to get home or reach their vacation destination, another major issue has been catapulted to prominence amidst the confusion – that of lost baggage. In some instances, thousands of bags have piled up at airports due to flights being canceled. Other travelers have found themselves trapped at their current location, while their bags ended up in an entirely different destination. Particularly for people who have now found themselves stuck without their work equipment, electronics, or other expensive items, the situation has become incredibly problematic. In this article, we discuss what actions you can pursue against Southwest Airlines (or any other airline) for losing your baggage. 

What You Can Do if an Airline Loses Your Baggage

When an airline loses your baggage at the airport or enroute to your destination, they are responsible for finding it and delivering it to you promptly. Airlines are usually able to find your items through their tracking systems, which allows them to know where the baggage went and how quickly it can be brought to you. 

Unfortunately, due to the sheer number of flights canceled and Southwest Airlines’ staffing problems, the company’s call centers have been swamped. Passengers have found themselves on the phone for hours without receiving any information about when their flight can be rebooked or where lost baggage may have ended up. Although the airline’s desk attendants and call center staff are not to blame for the current problems, customers are certainly entitled to a measure of frustration with the relative lack of coordination and communication.

Under routine circumstances, your best bet if an airline loses track of your baggage is to file a claim at the airport’s baggage desk. This alerts the airline to the problem and begins the process of finding your missing items. Be certain to get a customer service number to follow up with, along with a copy of the filed claim. Provide the airline with a preferred delivery address, as they may be able to deliver your items directly to your home or vacation destination. You may also be able to track your baggage through the Southwest Airlines mobile app.

The Airline Can’t Find My Baggage At All – Now What?

In some cases, your baggage may unfortunately be lost, not merely delayed or sent to the wrong destination. When you are traveling with expensive, important, or difficult to replace items, this can be especially devastating. Fortunately, airlines are responsible for compensating you for baggage that is damaged or lost in transit. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), baggage is generally considered lost if it cannot be found within five to fourteen days of your flight, though this time limit may vary depending on the airline you used.

At this point, per DOT regulations, the airline is responsible for compensating you for the contents of your lost baggage, subject to maximum liability limits and depreciation. For domestic flights, airlines may limit their liability for a traveler’s luggage to the sum of $3,800 unless the passenger paid for “excess valuation.” The airline must also refund baggage fees for the bag(s) that were lost. If the airline refuses to compensate you after your items have been unfound for an unreasonable amount of time, they may be subject to punitive actions from the DOT. 

Depending on your unique circumstances, you may be able to initiate a lawsuit against Southwest Airlines or another company in a small claims court for damages incurred. Small claims courts handle property-related cases, which can include lost baggage. This is usually also an affordable way to initiate a lawsuit against a major business, such as an airline. 

What to Do if You Find Yourself Stranded While Traveling

Although no one wants to find themselves trapped in an unfamiliar location, it may happen to anyone, especially during the busy holiday travel season. If you find yourself stuck due to grounded flights, these tips may help you make the most of the situation. 

  1. Keep in touch with your airline: As soon as you are aware of a possible cancellation or delayed flight, speak to a desk agent or call the airline to determine the flight’s status. Do not wait, as the first people to contact the airline will be rebooked the fastest. 
  2. Find a nearby hotel room: If your flight is canceled while you’re on vacation, it may be some time before you can get back in the air. Use an online travel agency to check hotel availability and prices for many hotels in the area, so you can get a fair deal on a room for however long you need it. If there is no Internet access, go to the airport’s baggage-claim area and look for a board of local hotels.
  3. Be kind and empathetic to desk agents: Although it is incredibly stressful and annoying to be trapped at a location you did not intend to be at, keeping a positive attitude helps you make the most of the situation. The airline should be doing everything it can to get you to your destination as quickly as possible, and the company’s employees will appreciate your empathy in a difficult situation for everyone involved.