This is a strange situation I am in.

Due to flight delays, I was rerouted into the US through a different airport.

My initial route London-->Philadelphia was changed to London->DC->Philadelphia.

However, my luggage was sent in a flight the next day directly to Philly. So I could not take the luggage through Customs at my port of entry, which was DC.

Now the flight is a codeshare flight. Although BA handled the luggage in London, my final carrier is United (Domestic) who seems to be clueless about the procedures. However, my lost luggage claim is handled by United.

I was notified that the luggage was held at Customs in Philadelphia airport. However, the airlines doesn't seem to know what to do next and asked me to contact Customs myself, which is ridiculous.

What is the standard protocol in this situation?

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    The other commenters have answered quite well, but I'll add that since there is going to be a delay getting your bags to you, your airline will likely allow you to purchase some clothing for which they will later reimburse you for whatever's reasonable. They won't buy you a whole new wardrobe, but if your winter coat is in your bag then you obviously need one. Likewise if your bag is definitely going to be a week late or lost forever, they may give a larger allowance than if it's delayed by 12 hours overnight. As at the baggage counter while filling out the delayed bag report.
    – ibennetch
    Jan 11, 2018 at 19:34
  • When that same happened to me in Canada, it was similar to what @DavidRicherby said. I had to wait and eventually wad contacted, had to go to the customs office at the airport, file a form confirming the suitcase only had used personal items and was then escorted to get the luggage out from the Lost Luggage area.
    – Itai
    Jan 12, 2018 at 4:21
  • "the airline doesn't seem to know what to do next" is fantastically unlikely. I guarantee you, this is not the first time baggage has been delayed/rerouted on a codeshare flight on UA ticket stock. (It's unlikely that this is the first time it's happened today.)
    – Sneftel
    Jan 12, 2018 at 11:20

3 Answers 3


It is United's responsibility to get your bags to you: they will deliver them to your hotel or wherever you're staying. The reason United have given you strange advice is that there's a disconnect between what you think is happening and what is actually happening, and they've not figured out what it is.

Before United can get your bags, they need to be processed through Customs, like any other cargo. When United says that Customs will hold your bags for 48 hours, they mean "It will take Customs up to 48 hours to process your bags, before we can deliver them to you", not "Customs will hold your bags for 48 hours; if you haven't gone to them and retrieved your bags by then, Customs will throw them in the trash or whatever."

United are waiting for Customs to process your bags. United can do nothing until then; you don't need to do anything, and you probably can't do anything. Even if you somehow contacted Customs, I guarantee their response would be, "Your bag will be ready when it's ready. We don't know exactly when that will be but we aim to process all bags within 48 hours of receiving them."

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    In the meantime buy yourself enough essentials to get through the 48 hours. If this is a hardship for you, ask them (United) to pay the bill, or your insurance may cover it. And in future, always have one change of clothing and a toothbrush in your carry-on.
    – RedSonja
    Jan 12, 2018 at 7:29
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    @RedSonja I don't think it's worth carrying a spare toothbrush. It's easy and not expensive to buy another one on the rare occasion that your baggage gets delayed. And you need to replace your toothbrush from time to time anyway, so you're not even spending any extra money -- once you get your bags back, store the new toothbrush until your original one needs to be replaced. Jan 12, 2018 at 10:05
  • "Toothbrush" just a placeholder for "minimum of stuff you need to stay in a hotel for a night".
    – RedSonja
    Jan 12, 2018 at 12:10
  • @RedSonja OK but read my response as using the same repalcement and I think it still applies. Bags get delayed pretty rarely and I'm not convinced that the extra hassle of including all this stuff in carry-on and unpacking the toiletries at security is worth it for the rare occasion when it's actually useful. You presumably prioritize differently, which is completely fine; I just wanted to put the other viewpoint out there. (Also, it will depend on personal needs. I can't survive without my glasses so I'd certainly bring contact lens fluid in carry-on if I wore contacts.) Jan 12, 2018 at 13:51

If the airline routed your baggage differently it's not a problem so don't actually worry about it. Meaning, this is a scenario Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is well aware of and you are not violating any rules or laws.

Since you presumably need to complete your trip to PHL, go to the United or British Airways Baggage Counter (which ever actually flew the bags there) when you get to PHL and they will arrange to retrieve the bags and coordinate with CBP.

For clarity, CBP probably isn't holding the bags for any specific reason, it just takes them that long to process them as misconnects. Whether or not they can be delivered to you by UA/BA or you have to retrieve them is up to CBP. Unfortunately, issues from the recent storms are almost certainly adding to the delay.

  • thank you. Currently the luggage is being held by customs and the airlines told me they might hold it for 48 hours. I was provided no other info. I also do not have a way to directly contact CBP at the airport.
    – NVAR
    Jan 11, 2018 at 15:28
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    @NVAR Still shouldn't matter. If CBP is 'holding' the bags, you just have to wait. Either way, this is something you need to take care of in PHL. BA or UA will tell you what to do when you get to PHL.
    – DTRT
    Jan 11, 2018 at 15:39
  • I already arrived in Philly one day ago. My baggage also arrived at Philly airport ~20 hours ago. It's just not available to me or UA. And BA is unable to provide further information.
    – NVAR
    Jan 11, 2018 at 18:37
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    @NVAR There is no information. Your bag will be through customs when it's through customs, which should be within 48 hours. Then, United will bring it to you. Jan 11, 2018 at 18:49
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    @NVAR cbp.gov/contact/ports/philadelphia Jan 12, 2018 at 4:39

Once you arrive in PHL, you go to the United luggage counter (next to the luggage belts), and they should have your luggage waiting. Then you carry it through customs like anyone else.

It is unclear if you already arrived and left the airport. If so, you need to go back to the airport and there to the luggage area, and proceed as above.
If that area is not accessible from the outside, an agent from the United Service Desk should be able to get you in (I have done so before).

They are normally not able to deliver it to your hotel, as they cannot take it through customs for you. Sometimes though, this is possible anyway; so you could call them and try to ask for delivery (as it wasn’t your fault that it was late).
Note that it makes a difference if you initiated the last-minute rebooking or they did - if you asked to be put on an earlier flight because you didn’t want to wait for next day, it is your responsibility to now pick up the luggage; if they initiated the rebooking, it is their responsibility, so they will deliver for free.

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    I think you've misunderstood the question. The asker surely didn't sit by the baggage carousels in Philadelphia waiting for their bags to show up the next day. Jan 11, 2018 at 17:35
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    I doubt you can easily enter the international luggage delivery area from the outside. And since the OP got rerouted via DC, he/she didn't/won't go through there either.
    – jcaron
    Jan 11, 2018 at 18:20
  • @jcaron , in some airports you can, in others not. I have added a line that you can go to the service desk to get in.
    – Aganju
    Jan 11, 2018 at 20:57
  • @DavidRicherby , the original post did not say if he is still in DC waiting for his connection (and therefore will arrive after his luggage in PHL), or if he was already ahead of his luggage and left PHL. So I described both possibilities.
    – Aganju
    Jan 11, 2018 at 20:59
  • Most people are going to be more concerned about when they arrive than about when their bag arrives. If the asker had been delayed by even more than their bag (and their bag was delayed by more than a day), surely they'd mention that. Also, it's very unlikely that somebody's flight would be delayed by so much that putting them on a different flight with a 24-hour layover would still be faster than their originally scheduled flight. It's overwhelmingly more likely that the asker got to PHL before their luggage. Jan 11, 2018 at 21:20

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