Know your rights: What happens if your luggage gets lost or your flight is over-booked.

Ever wonder what happens if you book a flight but the plane’s overbooked, or your baggage gets lost? Yeah, us too, so we asked the experts at Skyscanner to help answer the most common questions around what happens when things go wrong at the airport (and in the sky).

What happens to items confiscated during airport security screening?

Ok, so you’ve done everything that’s required of you. Your laptop is out of your carry-on bag so that it can be screened separately. You’ve decanted your shampoo and conditioner into containers holding less than 100 millimetres, and placed them into a transparent plastic bag. Your belt is off, and so are your shoes. What can possibly go wrong?

Now you see that your bag has been put aside, to be personally checked by a security officer. She finds a small pair of nail scissors, and a tube of sunscreen that she says is too big. And a jar of Vegemite, for when you miss home.

“Oops, I forgot”, you say. You tend to hear that a lot at airport security.

airport confiscation pile
All the weird bits and pieces that from the airport confiscation pile. Image: Unsplash.

What can you do now? Well, you can go all the way back to the airline counter and check in your carry-on bag. Or, you can say goodbye to your belongings forever. Once you agree to them being confiscated you lose all rights to them.

Liquid containers and aerosols will be destroyed, dumped, or recycled. Some things might be auctioned off, or sold through charity shops.

Your firearm might be used as evidence against you.

What happens if my seat number gets changed after I reserved it online?

The short answer is, tough luck. An airline doesn’t guarantee a seat. Sometimes planes are changed and they have different seat configurations. Sometimes you will be asked to move for safety or security reasons. If the flight has been overbooked and you are downgraded, from Business Class to Economy Class for example, you might be offered a refund to cover the difference in fares, or offered another flight.


Let's talk about plane etiquette because this is the one rule you're probably breaking every time you fly. Post continues after audio.

What happens if my flight is overbooked?

We’ve all heard about the man dragged screaming off a United Airlines flight in Chicago, in April 2017, in front of other horrified passengers, because the flight was overbooked.

Overbooking is a common practice for most airlines, because some people just don’t turn up. Sometimes they miss their flight, or they change their travel plans, or connecting flights are delayed.

Airlines usually start off by giving out travel vouchers that can be used later, or you might be offered a cash incentive. If that doesn’t work, airlines can bump the required amount of people. Usually this is done at the boarding gate. The US and the European Union airlines have to pay compensation.

In Australia an airline is required to re-book you on another flight, or give you a refund. You are not entitled to compensation if you are flying out of Australia, or within Australia.

What happens if your luggage gets lost, delayed or damaged?

It’s a holiday nightmare. You’ve arrived at your destination and you wait around for ages for your luggage to appear on the carousel. Then reality sets in. Everyone else has gone, and your bags are nowhere to be seen. The first thing to do is to try and report your missing luggage to ground staff. If you can’t do this, you need to contact the airline as soon as you can.

There are time limits to do this. Refer to your airline’s website for details.

In any case, make sure you have the baggage receipt sticker that you were given at check in, as this will make the search easier. After you have filled in a report document you will be given a reference number. Many airlines, including Qantas, Virgin Australia, and Singapore Airlines have signed up to WorldTracer, which allows you to track your luggage using your reference number.

If the luggage turns up, the airline will usually attempt to deliver it to you. If they can’t find it you will have to fill out a claim form.

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Most airlines are governed by the Montreal Convention 1999 when it comes to compensation for lost or damaged luggage. It covers both checked baggage and carry-on baggage. It also covers checked luggage that has not arrived after 21 days.

Each passenger is entitled to a maximum compensation of 1,000 ‘Special Drawing Rights (SDRs)’. This refers to a fluctuating index based on a basket of international currencies. The current SDR rate entitles you to a maximum compensation of around $1,869.

Wear and tear of your luggage - like scratches, scuffs and dents - and damage to protruding parts (including wheels and pull handles), are not covered. You won’t be covered if the damage was a result of your bag being over-packed either, or if items like sporting equipment and musical instruments were not adequately packed for transport.

Check your airline’s website for more information on how to claim.

What if I get injured on a plane?

The Montreal Convention 1999 also comes in to play if you are injured on a plane flying between countries that have signed up to the Convention. To make a claim under the Convention you have to prove that your injury was caused due to an ‘accident’ on board the plane, or when you were getting on to the plane or getting off it.

What constitutes an ‘accident’ has been debated by courts around the world, but it’s widely accepted that it means ‘an unexpected or unusual event or happening that is external to the passenger’. So, you may be eligible for compensation if you are injured during turbulence. The maximum amount of compensation for injury (or death) at today’s SDR rate is around $186,900.

This article was originally written by Marc Llewellyn and published on Skyscanner. It has been republished with full permission.

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