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What to do if your baggage was lost in the holiday chaos at Canada’s airports

The story will be familiar to thousands of passengers who tried to fly into, out of and around Canada over the Christmas holidays: They finally made it to their destination, only to find their luggage did not.

A graveyard of lost suitcases, duffel bags and car seats has grown behind a makeshift wall at Vancouver International Airport after weather and staffing issues caused hundreds of flights to be delayed or cancelled at the peak of the holiday travel season. 

Losing your luggage can be stressful and expensive.

Here’s what you should do if it happened to you.

My luggage disappeared. What do I do?

First, file a lost and delayed baggage report with your airline in writing as soon as you can. Include as much documentation as possible: a photo and description of your bag, your luggage tag and your flight information.

Claims must be submitted within 21 days for delayed baggage and within seven days for damaged luggage. Baggage is considered lost if it has been delayed for 21 days or if the airline admits sooner to losing the luggage.

Airlines can be held liable for baggage that is lost or damaged up to approximately $2,300, according to the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA).

WATCH | Thousands of travellers still waiting for return of lost luggage:

what to do if your baggage was lost in the holiday chaos at canadas airports

The travel nightmare before Christmas

12 days ago

Duration 1:59

Vancouver’s airport still hasn’t recovered from a blast of winter weather earlier this week, which has caused a chain reaction of flight delays and cancellations across Canada. The airport’s CEO says things are improving, but not quickly enough for some travellers.

I had to buy new stuff since I didn’t have my bag. Can I be compensated?

Airlines can compensate passengers for basics they might need to buy during their trip. For example, a traveller might need a new bathing suit for their beach destination, or parents might need to rent a stroller for their children.

Spend carefully, though: the airline will be able to decide what constitutes a “reasonable” purchase. Spending $250 to replace a $35 bathing suit might not pass.

That obligation to compensate passengers also includes any expenses incurred while retrieving those bags, such as a taxi ride to the airport, gas or parking costs, he said.

Include all out-of-pocket expenses in your claim. Keep your receipts.

Who is responsible for my luggage?

The onus is on your airline — not the airport.

Your airline should deliver your bags to you once they’re located.

Luggage and bags as far as the eye can see at Vancouver International Airport.
Luggage and bags as far as the eye can see at Vancouver International Airport on Dec. 21, 2022, after multiple delays and cancellations. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Can I go to the airport to look for my bags myself?

Vancouver International Airport has set up temporary walls to safely store about 2,500 unclaimed bags.

Travellers with missing bags should file a lost luggage claim with their airline first, but they can also show up to the airport with their luggage tags and airline ticket to be escorted into the protected areas to search for their bags. 

Where can I find staff at YVR to help?

The airport said passengers can speak with YVR’s “baggage customer support team” for help. The team is stationed at the information counter at domestic arrivals on Level 2, or international arrivals on Level 1. 

“These team members continue to assist YVR’s airline partners with answering questions and helping passengers locate their bags,” reads a statement from the airport.

What if the airline doesn’t respond to my claim?

If the airline refuses or ignores a claim, you can try to enforce your rights through legal action.

In Canada, legal action can be taken in the airline’s home province, the province where the ticket was purchased, or in the flight’s destination province. The required forms and court procedures may vary from province to province.

There is a two-year time limit for any court action to claim damages.

Passengers can also file a complaint with the Canadian Transportation Agency, but be prepared to wait: the agency is dealing with an 18-month backlog.

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