What to do if an airline loses your bags: The rules regarding lost or delayed luggage

En route from Casablanca in Morocco to Rome on an Alitalia flight in May, my partner's checked bag didn't make it off the carousel. Mine did, and we'd checked in together. We reported the missing bag at the baggage claims office at Fiumicino airport, were issued with a Property Irregularity Report, notified them of the hotels where we'd be staying for the next two weeks – and then the fun began.

The next morning we flew out to Bucharest. Luckily she had some clothes and toiletries packed in her carry-ons, but not for the cold places in northern Romania we'd be visiting. Which meant half that day spent in malls in Bucharest shopping for walking boots, pants, jumper and a padded jacket.

Six days after we reported it Alitalia finally located the bag – it hadn't been loaded onto the plane in Casablanca – and they sent it on to the airport in Bucharest. That's where it stayed. Despite the fact that in such cases the airline is supposed to courier it direct to you, they sent it to the care of Tarom, Romania's national airline, with no forwarding instructions.

We followed it up with daily calls to Alitalia which were stonewalled at every turn. Alitalia made zero attempt to have the bag delivered to us so finally, 10 days after the bag was lost, we drove to the airport in Bucharest and picked up the suitcase ourselves.

Back home, we wrote to Alitalia claiming compensation for an amount of $627.47 to cover the cost of clothing and toiletries purchased in Romania. Every item in the claim was supported with copies of invoices and credit card statements.

Alitalia's customer relations office responded with a process known as deny and delay. Despite hand-wringing regrets for the inconvenience caused, they denied receiving the claim, they stalled at every turn and demanded fresh copies of the receipts when they said they couldn't open the files either in the jpg or pdf format we'd sent them.

Finally came the offer – €240, to be used to purchase tickets or services with Alitalia. That's about $235 short of the amount we were claiming. Also, after what had transpired, we'd rather take a slow boat than ever fly with Alitalia again.

Our case was absolutely watertight. We had documentation to prove what had happened every step along the way. We wrote back to Alitalia telling them their response was totally inadequate and highlighting their obligations under the Montreal Convention of 1999 regarding airline liability in the event of delayed baggage.

Total silence from Alitalia. I then Googled and found the email addresses of their chief financial officer, public relations execs and the CEO and wrote what I consider to be a calm and reasonable statement of the facts.

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Within three days Alitalia had upped their offer. A full refund would be coming our way, to be paid within 30 days, which we accepted. It wasn't over yet – after another six weeks had elapsed and the refund not paid, I again emailed the big fish and then money was paid into our account the next day.

A happy enough ending you might say, but only after dogged persistence, and only after prodding Alitalia's big cheeses because by and large, airlines are not inclined to play fair when they're clearly in the wrong.

Wearing my Tripologist hat for Traveller, it's not uncommon to get letters from readers who have been dudded by airlines in one way or another, and a familiar pattern emerges. When an airline's performance falls short of what's expected, their first instinct is to throw you half a bone and hope that's the end of the matter. There is now a mini industry that acts on behalf of flyers to obtain compensation when their flight is delayed or cancelled, when they are bumped from a flight or when their baggage is delayed. That involves a fee.

Whether you go it alone or claim through an agency, there are a few steps to follow.

Know your rights. In the case of baggage claims it's the Montreal Convention 1999 that sets the rules. In the case of compensation for lost baggage, a downgrade or a delayed flight within the EU, see the air passenger rights website . In the US, it's the Department of Transportation website that covers baggage, or in the case of flight delay or cancellation, this section.

Don't delay. Article 31 (2) of the Montreal Convention requires that loss or damage to baggage must be reported in writing within seven days.

Keep every document. Boarding passes, baggage checks, receipts for any purchases, taxi fares to shopping malls.

If their offer of compensation falls short and you've reached a stalemate, start digging. Get the email addresses of the head honchos and write.

See also: What you need to do if you miss a flight

See also: Downgraded: The worst thing that can happen to business class passengers

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