Your Rights as an Air Traveler – Damaged Delayed or Lost Baggage
If your suitcase arrives smashed or torn, the airline will usually pay for repairs. If it can’t be fixed, they will negotiate a settlement to pay you its depreciated value. The same holds true for belongings packed inside.
Airlines may decline to pay for damage caused by the fragile nature of the broken item or inadequate packing, rather than the airline’s rough handling. Air carriers might also refuse to compensate you for damaged items inside the bag when there’s no evidence of external damage to the suitcase. When you check in, airline personnel may let you know if they think your suitcase or package may not survive the trip intact. Before accepting a questionable item, they may ask you to sign a statement in which you agree to check it at your own risk. Even if you do sign this form, the airline might be liable for damage if it is caused by its own negligence shown by external injury to the suitcase or package.
If you and your suitcase don’t connect at your destination, don’t panic. The airlines have very sophisticated systems that track down the vast majority of misplaced bags and return them to their owners within hours. In many cases they will absorb reasonable expenses you incur while they look for your missing belongings. You and the airline may have different ideas of what’s reasonable, however, and the amount it will pay is subject to negotiation.
If your bags don’t come off the conveyor belt, report this to airline personnel before you leave the airport. Insist that they create a report and give you a copy, even if they say the bag will be in on the next flight. Get an appropriate phone number for following up (not the Reservations number). Don’t assume that the airline will deliver the bag without charge when it is found; ask the airline about this. Most carriers set guidelines for their airport employees that allow them to disburse some money at the airport for emergency purchases. The amount depends on whether or not you’re away from home and how long it takes to track down your bags and return them to you. If the airline does not provide you a cash advance, it may still reimburse you later for the purchase of necessities. Discuss with the carrier the types of articles that would be reimbursable, and keep all receipts. If the airline misplaces sporting equipment, it will sometimes pay for the rental of replacements. For replacement clothing or other articles, the carrier might offer to absorb only a portion of the purchase cost, on the basis that you will be able to use the new items in the future. (The airline may agree to a higher reimbursement if you turn the articles over to them.)
When you’ve checked in fresh foods or any other perishable goods and they are ruined because their delivery is delayed, the airline won’t reimburse you. Carriers may be liable if they lose or damage perishable items, but they won’t accept responsibility for spoilage caused by a delay in delivery.
Airlines are liable for provable consequential damages up to the amount of their liability limit (see below) in connection with the delay. If you can’t resolve the claim with the airline’s airport staff you may need to handle it further from home. Keep a record of the names of the employees with whom you dealt, hold on to all travel documents as well as receipts for any money you spent in connection with the mishandling. (It’s okay to surrender your baggage claim tags to the airline when you fill out the form at the airport, as long as you get a copy of the form and it’s notes when you give up the tags). Now you are set to contact the airline’s baggage claims office or consumer office from home.
Once your bag is declared (permanently) lost, you will have to submit a claim. This usually means you have to fill out a second, more detailed form. Check on this; failure to complete the second form when required could delay your claim. Missing the deadline for filing it could invalidate your claim altogether.
The airline will usually refer your claim to a central office, and the negotiations between you and the airline will begin. If your flight was a connection involving two carriers, the final carrier is normally the one responsible for processing your claim even if it appears that the first airline lost the bag. Airlines don’t automatically pay the full amount of every claim they receive. First, they will use the information on your form to estimate the value of your lost belongings. Like insurance companies, airlines consider the depreciated value of your possessions, not their original price or the replacement costs. If you’re tempted to exaggerate your claim, don’t. Airlines may completely deny claims they feel are inflated or fraudulent. They often ask for sales receipts and other documentation to back up claims, especially if a large amount of money is involved. If you don’t keep extensive records, you can expect to negotiate with the airline over the value of your goods. Generally, it takes an airline anywhere from four weeks to three months to pay passengers for their lost luggage. When airlines tender a settlement, they may offer you the option of free tickets on future flights in a higher amount than the cash payment. Ask about all restrictions on these tickets, such as "blackout" periods.
Limits on liability
Airlines assert a limit on their liability for delayed, lost or damaged checked baggage. When your luggage and its contents are worth more than the liability limit, you may want to purchase "excess valuation," if available, from the airline as you check in. This is not insurance, but it will increase the carrier’s potential liability. The airline may refuse to sell excess valuation on some items that are especially valuable or breakable, such as antiques, musical instruments, jewelry, manuscripts, negotiable securities and cash.
On domestic trips, the airline can invoke a liability ceiling that is regulated by DOT and that is adjusted every two years and currently $3,300 per ticketed passenger. On international round trips that originate in the United States, the liability limit is set by a treaty called the Montreal Convention currently $2718. This treaty also governs liability on international round trips that originate in another country that has ratified this Convention, and one-way trips between the U.S. and such a country. The current limits may be listed on your confirmation, or you can find them at http:airconsumer.dot.gov. The international limit applies to domestic segments of an international journey. This is the case even if the domestic and international flights are on separate tickets and you claim and re-check your bag between the two flights.
Keep in mind that the liability limits are maximums. If the depreciated value of your property is worth less than the liability limit, this lower amount is what you will be offered. If the airline’s settlement doesn’t fully reimburse your loss, check your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance; it sometimes covers losses away from the residence. Some credit card companies and travel agencies offer optional or even automatic supplemental baggage coverage. Special liability requirements apply to the domestic transportation of assistive devices used by passengers with disabilities. See the publication New Horizons: Information for the Air Traveler with a Disability at http://airconsumer.dot.gov/.
The source of the above information is the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).