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Inspired by this question: Minimum Layover Time for International Arrivals at Fort Lauderdale Intl. Airport

Lets say you have a single ticket itinerary with a connection at the first port of entry in the US. When arriving in the US, you need to clear immigration, collect bags, clear customs, go to your departure terminal, clear security and then mosey on to your departure gate.

Let's say you make it through passport control just fine, head down to the baggage claim and then you wait, and wait, and wait, and nothing happens. Meanwhile the clock is ticking and the gate closing time time of your connection comes closer and closer.

  1. Is there any obligation for you to wait for the bags to come out or can just decide to abandon them and head for your departure gate ?
  2. Do airlines give any guidelines for this situation? I assume in most cases they prefer you making your connection especially if the miss would trigger an overnight stay. On the other hand, if there is another (empty) flight two hours later, they probably would want you to wait. How do you decide ?
  3. How do you determine when to bugger out? What is a reasonable (and perhaps defensible) method to determine the "sorry, we got to go" point in time.
  4. Would you need to notify the airline?
  5. Can the airline refuse to send the bags after you or charge you for that service ?
  6. The inverse case: can the airline refuse or charge you for rebooking since you waited for your bags when otherwise you would have made your connection easily?

Just to constrain the answer space a bit: let's assume there is no airline representative in the baggage claim (closed, 3rd party contractor, typical "not my job/responsibility" attitude) and you can't contact them (phone wait times often exceed multiple hours and technically using your phone in the baggage claim is illegal).

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  • One ticket or two separate tickets? Commented Aug 12, 2023 at 13:27
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    One ticket, of course.
    – Hilmar
    Commented Aug 12, 2023 at 14:21
  • My last flight into the US (June, DFW) went collect bags, then customs/immigration as one (but no customs questions for me that day on Global Entry). Not sure about the process at your port of entry. Not sure what the airline could do about bags that didn’t pass through the customs border officially (whether an actual inspection is done or not).
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Aug 13, 2023 at 16:17
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    @DimitriVulis If you're involuntarily separated from your luggage because it was lost/misdirected, my experience is that the airline will clear the bags through US customs in your absence and arrange for it to be forwarded to you. No interaction with customs is normally needed, though I imagine if they found contraband or commercial merchandise or other items of concern to customs, you'd likely be hearing from them. Commented Aug 13, 2023 at 19:16
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    @DimitriVulis: if your bags are actually lost you are typically required to file a lost baggage report directly at the airport. Many baggage carousels do have a sign that says "all bags out" or something similar to indicate that they are done unloading. If your bag is not on the belt, you can file the claim. For the sake of this question I assume that this doesn't happen before its time for you to leave.
    – Hilmar
    Commented Aug 14, 2023 at 15:51

1 Answer 1

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Please take this answer with a grain of salt because I have no direct experience with this.

The least problematic course of action sounds like missing the connection. This is because:

  • the late bag delivery is out of your control, so the airline must (probably) still ensure you reach the destination (this is assuming that the two legs are on a single ticket)
  • you must report the bag missing at the airport where it went missing
  • customs might otherwise require you to fill out a form where you must mention any "unaccompanied baggage"
  • I don't think leaving a bag behind at customs is seen kindly by anyone involved, especially because at no point you will have proof that it was late; they might think you just walked out

However I'd first suggest:

  • before your flight, call your airline to see how they deal with "forgotten baggage"
  • at the carousel, discuss your options with the Lost Baggage counter
  • before boarding the following flight, discuss your options with the closest airline representative/desk

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