Delayed or Missing Baggage While Travelling? Here’s What You Can Do

Last updated on October 4, 2023

More people are travelling to places in Asia, America and Europe as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted and borders are reopening. While travelling is fun and exciting, losing your baggage during your long-awaited vacation can be frustrating.

This article outlines some of the remedies available for delayed or missing baggage. It will cover:

What is the Difference Between Delayed and Missing Baggage?

Generally, delayed baggage refers to checked-in baggage that hasn’t arrived at your destination in time. On the other hand, a baggage is classified as missing if it has been lost for more than 21 days. If your baggage was lost for up to 21 days, a day or a week, it would be considered as delayed.

The following table provides examples of situations that would and would not constitute baggage delay:

Considered as baggage delay Not considered as baggage delay
Checked-in baggage not present at your destination upon arrival Baggage placed on a different belt upon arrival at destination
Baggage placed on a later flight (this is considered as a delay as your baggage did not arrive on time) Baggage placed on an earlier flight (this is not considered as a delay as your baggage arrived earlier than scheduled)

Will I be Compensated if My Baggage is Delayed or Missing?

When you purchase an air ticket, a contract between the airline and the passenger named on the ticket is formed. Subsequently, when the airline loses a baggage, it is liable under the terms and conditions of carriage, generally found in the air ticket on purchase. The terms and conditions of carriage cover when and how you can claim compensation if your baggage is delayed or missing.

International conventions like the Montreal Convention and Warsaw Convention, which cover international air travel, would also apply. These international conventions lay down the rules and regulations that outline an airline’s liability for passenger deaths and injuries, as well as for delayed, damaged and lost baggage, which would include payment of compensation to the affected passenger.

Which One Applies to Me – Warsaw Convention or the Montreal Convention?

The Montreal Convention 1999 is designed to unify all other international conventions covering airline liability, including the Warsaw Convention, making the Montreal Convention a single, universal treaty.

Most countries, such as the United Kingdom, South Korea and Australia, are part of the Montreal Convention. However, there are some countries that are not part of the Montreal Convention, such as Afghanistan and Myanmar.

To be able to claim compensation under the Montreal Convention, the convention must also be applicable to the country of departure and final destination, meaning both departure and arrival countries are member states under the same convention. More information regarding the member states of the Montreal Convention can be found here.

Generally, domestic flights without stopovers are not covered by the Montreal Convention.

For example:

  • Flight from Singapore to South Korea (both member states) will be covered by Montreal Convention
  • Flight from China (member state) to Myanmar (not a member state) will not be covered by the Montreal Convention
  • Domestic flights within Thailand (despite being a member state) without a stopover will not be covered by Montreal Convention
  • Flights from Thailand-Thailand (member state) with stopover in Singapore (member state) will be covered by the Montreal Convention
  • Flights from China-China with stopover in Myanmar (not a member state) will be covered by the Montreal Convention as the country of departure and arrival would be China (a member state)

If the Montreal Convention does not apply to either the departure or arrival country, it is likely that the Warsaw Convention will still apply. Conditions for compensation under the Warsaw Convention can be found here.

Exceptional Circumstances for the Montreal Convention

There are various circumstances which are not covered under the Montreal Convention.

These include:

  • Adverse weather conditions (e.g., thunderstorms, fog, hurricanes)
  • Political unrest
  • Air traffic control or airport staff strikes (excluding strikes by airline’s crew)
  • Safety and security-related issues

This means that you would not be able to rely upon the Montreal Convention for compensation and would have to rely on the airline’s terms and conditions of carriage instead.

What is the Amount of Compensation I Would Receive Under the Montreal Convention if My Baggage is Delayed or Missing?

The Montreal Convention specifies the airline’s liability to compensate for missing or delayed baggage. Compensation limits are found in special drawing rights (SDRs), an artificial currency that consists of a basket of currencies (USD, Euro, Chinese Renminbi, Japanese Yen and Pound Sterling). It will be converted to national currency based on its exchange rate at a specific time. You can refer to the exchange rate here.

The compensation limit is 1288 SDRs per passenger for both delayed and missing baggage, unless the passenger has made a special declaration of interest in delivery and has paid an additional fee. This special declaration of interest has to be made and paid for at the check-in or bag drop counter. As such, this raises the cap on compensation payable and the airline will be liable to pay a total of up to the declared sum.

For example, suppose you are travelling with a child who uses a stroller and have made a special declaration of interest of $300 (i.e. the cost of the stroller) upon check-in/baggage drop and paid an additional fee for declaring. If your stroller does not arrive at your destination on time, you would be able to claim up to $300 from the airline.

However, airlines would not be liable for general wear and tear of the baggage. This includes damage or protruding parts of the baggage (straps, pockets, pull handles, hanger hooks, wheels and other items attached to the baggage) due to prolonged use of the baggage or handling baggage from the plane to the belt.

In cases of baggage delay, you can claim the costs of essential items for your trip. This extends beyond clothes and toiletries. In order to do so, you will be asked to present your boarding pass and baggage tag (usually attached to your air ticket). The amount of compensation you would receive is reviewed by the airline on a case-by-case basis. It is important to note that what is considered to be essential items varies from airline to airline.

How Long do I Have If I Want to File a Claim Against the Airline?

You should file a claim for your missing or delayed baggage as soon as possible, as the Montreal Convention has strict deadlines for such claims.

Delayed baggage claims must be filed within 21 calendar days. Bags that have been missing for more than 21 days are considered lost, and you will have up to 2 years to submit a claim for lost baggage.

What are the Various Avenues of Recourse If My Baggage Goes Missing?

Contacting the airline

The first thing would be to contact the airline as soon as possible. If the airline is made aware of the missing baggage, they will be held liable according to the conditions of carriage.

If your baggage is missing, you should submit a claim according to the instructions on the Conditions of carriage. Generally, airlines would require you to list out the lost items and their cost, and may require receipts as proof.

If your baggage is delayed, it is possible for some airlines to offer either a one-off or daily compensation, or reimburse you upon receiving the receipts of your items or belongings in the baggage. As you do require your own belongings on your trip, personal belongings are considered to be a factor for reimbursement. Having receipts for your belongings also allows the airline to better estimate the value of your belongings in your baggage.

However, it is important to note that different airlines would have different terms and conditions of carriage, meaning that the type of one-off or daily compensation would vary and is dependent on their respective terms and conditions of carriage.

If you believe that the airline did not fulfil its obligations under its conditions of carriage, for example, negligence with handling your baggage or misplacing your baggage, or if the airline response is unsatisfactory or they refuse to assist, you may consider pursuing the following options:

Contacting CASE

The Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE) is a non-profit, private organisation that is dedicated to protecting consumer interests. An example of a remedy that CASE offers would be mediation of the dispute with the airline.

The mediation service provides a way for parties to negotiate, compromise, and reach an amicable resolution to a dispute, which is also less costly than litigation. After coming to a middle ground in mediation, if the airline agrees to compensate and sign a settlement agreement, the agreement between the passenger and airline would be legally binding. This means that the airline would be legally obliged to compensate for your delayed or missing baggage.

However, it is important to note that CASE would only be able to help with Singapore-registered airlines such as Jetstar Asia Airways, Scoot and Singapore Airlines.

Online submissions of complaints can be done here.

Filing a claim with the Small Claims Tribunals (SCT)

The Small Claims Tribunals (SCT) settle specific types of low-value disputes below $20,000, between consumers and suppliers in a faster and less expensive manner than a civil trial.

The initial mediation and consultation will be handled by the Registrar. If both parties are unable to reach an agreement, the claim will be considered by a referee. The parties will present their respective case without the presence of a lawyer. Witnesses may also be called. Finally, the referee will decide whether to enforce or reject the claim.

The SCT has the benefit of not requiring the claimant (person filing a claim) or respondent (airline responding to the claim) to pay any legal fees if they were unsuccessful in their claim

For more information on the SCT, please refer to this guide.

Taking legal action

You may also consider legal action such as suing the airline. It is worth noting that this is used as a measure of last resort as it is a long-drawn and costly process. If you wish to pursue legal action against the airline, you would need to seek further advice from a litigation lawyer who will review the facts of your case and make an assessment.

What are Some Practical Steps to Take if My Baggage is Delayed or Missing?

Contact the airline as soon as possible

To contact the airline, proceed to the lost and found counter at the Baggage Claim Area for assistance. You may also contact the handling agent (Dnata Singapore or SATS) representing the airline you flew with even if your flight does not originate from Singapore.

More information on which handling agent is covering your airline can be found here. It is important to do this as soon as your baggage is lost in case there are time limits that apply to baggage claims.

Check the airline’s conditions of carriage

As the air ticket is effectively a contract between you and the airline, do check the terms and conditions of the airline’s liability for delayed or missing/lost baggage.

Purchasing travel insurance with additional cover for delayed or missing/lost baggage

To safeguard yourself from travel-related emergencies and mishaps, it is recommended to buy adequate travel insurance before you travel. Generally, apart from medical coverage, a comprehensive travel insurance plan should also cover flight delays, flight cancellations as well as missing/lost, delayed and damaged baggage.

Take precautionary measures: Invest in a tracker (e.g. Apple AirTag)

For ease of mind, it might be worth investing in bluetooth tracking devices to be placed into your baggage. Technological devices such as Apple AirTag, Samsung SmartTag and Tile allow you to track your baggage in real-time and inform you of the location of your baggage should it go missing.

For example, a tracker would be able to let you know that your baggage has been placed on a different belt or if you are taking connecting flights, that it may be on the earlier or later flight. This reduces the hassle of filing a claim, and knowing where your baggage is located.

In summary, airlines are generally liable for missing or delayed baggage under its conditions of carriage and international treaties such as the Montreal Convention and there are strict deadlines for filing baggage claims.

The first steps you should take once you realise that your baggage is delayed or missing are to contact the airline and check the airline’s conditions of carriage.

In the event of a dispute with the airline over delayed or missing baggage and you are unable to resolve it with the airline directly, you may either:

  • Refer the matter to CASE
  • File a claim at the Small Claims Tribunal
  • Contact a disputes or civil litigation lawyer if you want further legal advice or are considering taking legal action
  • Alternatively, for a quick or initial assessment of your case, you may utilise our Call A Lawyer Service for legal advice on possible legal claims.
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