Hi I'm Mark Orwoll of Travel + Leisure magazine for howdini. Few travel woes are as upsetting as finding out your luggage has been delayed, damaged, or worst of all, lost. While the airline might owe you some compensation if this happens, your best bet is to avoid it in the first place. Here is some common sense advice that you can follow to avoid anything going wrong with your bags.
First, check in on time. If you're late, you might make it on the plane on time, but your bags could get left behind. If you have a choice, book a non-stop or a direct flight. When you change planes, you increase the chances that your bags might not make the connection even though you have.
Put a name tag on your luggage in case it is misplaced and it will make it easier to find. When you check your bag at the airport, make sure the agent puts a destination tag on your bag and gives you the claim for them.
If you arrive at your destination and your bags aren't there, don't panic. 98% of delayed luggage is reunited with its owner within just a few hours. Go to the baggage office and file a claim there. Don't assume though that they'll deliver your bags to your home or hotel; not every airline will. So, ask about their policy before you leave the airport.
If your luggage and its contents are damaged, the airline will usually pay for repairs. If repairs aren't practical, the airline will usually pay you the used value of those items.
Now, let's say the worst case scenario happens and your luggage really is lost. File any claim forms that are required. The airline only has to pay you up to $300; that's per passenger no matter how many of your bags they may have lost. That's a real good reason to put important, valuable, or sentimental items in your carry on bags. Or better yet, leave them at home.
So remember: arrive early, book a non-stop or direct flight, make sure that you have a name tag on your luggage and a destination tag put on by the agent. If you follow all that advice, the chances are pretty good that both you and your bags will arrive at the airport at the same time.