My luggage has been lost by an airline. What are my rights?

When an air passenger books a flight with an airline a contract is created between the passenger and the airline. If, as part of that contract, it has been agreed that the passenger can take with him baggage then the airline will be responsible for taking reasonable care of that baggage.

If the airline fails to do so, for example the airline loses the baggage, on the face of it the air passenger will have a claim against the airline for the loss suffered by him. However, that is not to say that an air passenger will be successful in making a claim in all circumstances or that he will be able to recover his losses in full.

The Montreal Convention

The Montreal Convention, amongst other things, sets out the liability of an airline in the event that baggage is lost on certain international flights. The majority of flights to and from the UK are covered by the Convention. 

The Convention provides that an airline will be liable for delayed or lost baggage in certain circumstances.

How long does baggage have to be missing before it is considered as being lost?

Under the Convention baggage is treated as having been lost if it has been missing for 21 days or more. If 21 days have not yet passed then the baggage is treated as having been delayed.

In what circumstances will the airline be liable?

The Convention provides that an airline will be responsible for lost or delayed baggage unless: 

  • The airline can show that it (or its agents or employees) took all reasonable measures to avoid the baggage being lost or delayed or that it was impossible for such measures to be taken; or 
  • The airline can show that the passenger claiming the compensation caused or contributed to the loss or delay.

If the airline is responsible for losing my baggage will I be able to claim from them the full value of my lost baggage?

The Convention set a limit on the amount of an airline’s liability for lost baggage of 1,000 “Special Drawing Rights” (SDR) per passenger. That figure is subject to a review every 5 years. The limit as at June 2010 is 1,131 Special Drawing Rights per passenger. If the value of your luggage exceeds this amount then it is unlikely that you will be compensated in full by the airline for the loss.  

The amount set by the Convention does not relieve the passenger of his obligation to prove his claim. Any receipts, for example relating to the lost baggage should be retained.

What is a “Special Drawing Right”?

A “Special Drawing Right” is a monetary unit used by the International Monetary Fund. The rate fluctuates on a daily basis like any other currency. The current rate can be found on the International Monetary Fund’s website.

Is it ever possible to claim more than that amount?

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For more information on:

  • Are Court costs recoverable?
  • What if the airline’s conditions of carriage state that it has no liability for loss of luggage or limits it liability to a lesser sum than that set by the Convention?
  • When and how should I make a complaint about lost baggage?
  • I have heard that the airline is in financial difficulty. Will this prevent me from recovering compensation from the airline?
  • I have travel insurance. How does that affect my claim?