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Travel woes? Check out some tips for tracking lost luggage

From online sites, apps and devices you could use, these tips could make flying easier.

TAMPA, Fla. — You've probably seen some of the images that have come out of nationwide airports since Southwest Airlines canceled most of its flights: a sea of checked luggage left behind – even at Tampa International Airport. 

The majority of Southwest flights on Tuesday and Wednesday were listed as canceled as the airline contends with massive backlogs following a winter storm. 

Hundreds of bags were packed into the claim area at Tampa's airport Monday and Tuesday while passengers, now without a flight, became increasingly frustrated about what exactly happened to their checked luggage.

While it may take some time to reunite passengers with their lost bags, we compiled a list of resources that could help you have a better idea about where your belongings may be located now and for future travels.

Airline luggage trackers

If you can't find your bags, some airlines have trackers set up for travelers to use to figure out where exactly their belongings are located.

American Airlines

On the airline's website, officials say if people can't find their bags, they need to talk to an agent at the airport after landing. The agent will give them a 13-character file reference number to use when filling a claim, but it can also be used to check the status of their bags.

The number can be plugged into a portal that helps pinpoint where their bags are.

Delta Air Lines

On the airline's website, there's a tool that allows travelers to track their checked bags by just typing in their bag tag number, confirmation number or file reference number.

"All baggage activity [is] shown in the local time of the airport location. If your itinerary includes travel on airlines other than Delta or its Connection carriers, baggage tracking information may not be complete. Please check with the operating carrier for your baggage status," the airline wrote on its website.

United Airlines

On the airline's website, travelers that want to know where their bags are can complete a form online by typing in their file reference number given by the Baggage Resolution Service Center along with their first and last name.

File a claim

If the airline you're traveling through doesn't provide a tracker, most people will file a claim with the airport's Baggage Service Office if they can't find their bag. Airlines such as Spirit, Southwest, Frontier and JetBlue tell travelers to speak with an agent at the office to create a report of the bag.

If you happen to leave the airport, there are ways to file a claim online, as well:

Even if airlines that provide a tracker mess up and can't track your bag, you can file a claim with them too:

Apple AirTag & Tile Mate

For the airlines that don't have trackers for travelers to use, the best option would be to have your own Bluetooth device to figure out where your bags are. Apple AirTags and Tile Mates are the way to go, according to The New York Times.

For people with iPhones, the newspaper recommends the AirTag while Andriod users are told to use a Tile Mate. These devices simply attach to the checked bags or are placed inside them to allow travelers to trace them once they arrive at their destination.

An NYT writer tested the two devices and said both the AirTag and Tile Mate sent notifications to her phone when her suitcase landed at the airport she was at. But she did say the AirTag updated its location much faster than the Tile Mate, which showed her bag's precise location about 15 minutes after landing.

"Both the AirTag and Tile Mate were effective in my testing. They’re easy to set up, simple to report missing, and small enough to slip into any type of checked luggage," the NYT writer explained in the article.


Here is some information from the U.S. Department of Transportation for people who have their bags delayed:

  • When a checked bag does not arrive at its destination, airlines are responsible for locating the bag. Airlines have tracking systems in place to try to identify the bag’s location.  
  • Some airlines now offer applications for cell phones, tablets and other electronic devices, which provide passengers with data on the location of their baggage. It may be helpful to use this technology to locate your baggage, if available.
  • Passengers should file a baggage claim with their airline as soon as possible
  • Passengers should stay in close communication with the airline after filing a claim and during the baggage location process. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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