Flying the not-so-friendly skies: What are your air passenger rights and how do you enforce them?
In this three-part series we’ve discussed cancellations and delays, and overbooking and passenger bumping; now we turn to passenger rights related to delayed, lost, and damaged baggage.
Many of us have experienced it, and we all harbor fears that it’ll happen to us: You arrive at your final destination, and begin impatiently staring down—hoping the intensity of your glare will quicken the process—the suitcases and boxes as they churn out on to the conveyor belt. Then, the dreaded happens: the near-bare belt stops circulating and the baggage chute shoots no more, before your suitcase makes an appearance. It hits you: your suitcase did not arrive at your destination. What are your rights?
For domestic flights, airlines are liable for a minimum of $3,500 per passenger for (provable) direct and consequential damages caused by lost, damaged, or delayed baggage (or other personal property). (International flights are subject to the Montreal Convention, which sets the maximum baggage liability at 1,131 SDR (currently, this converts to $1,596).) Airlines must provide passengers with written notice of any monetary limit on its baggage liability.
If your baggage does not arrive with you at your destination, immediately report it to airline personnel before you leave the airport. Additionally, you should (1) ask the airline to create a report and provide you with a copy, (2) get a contact number to follow up on your baggage, (3) find out what expenses are reimbursable, (4) keep all of your receipts, and (5) inquire whether you are eligible for money for emergency purchases. Be sure to follow up with a written claim and include a demand for any damages suffered as a result of the delayed baggage along with copies of receipts. If your baggage never arrives—that is, if it’s lost—you must submit another, more detailed claim that includes the contents of your lost baggage. (Note: airlines generally won’t reimburse you for damage to perishable items resulting from delay, but they may cover costs if it’s permanently lost).
For damaged baggage, if your suitcase or its contents are damaged in transit, immediately report it before leaving the airport. If you discover damage after leaving the airport, contact the airline and make a report as soon as you can. Follow up with a certified written letter and/or any forms required by the airline.
Airlines may not automatically pay out the value of your claim, so be prepared to negotiate with the airline regarding the extent of your damages and value of your items. When seeking damages be sure to note any special circumstances or sentimental reasons that make the mishandling of your baggage particularly burdensome. For example, in one case, a delay in baggage arrival caused passengers to miss a wedding—the intended purpose of their trip—and the passengers sought damages for mental distress and inconvenience. Do not, however, exaggerate your claim. Receipts and well-kept records are difficult to refute and provide you with good bargaining power.
If you have complaint related to how an airline has addressed your baggage claim or if an airline fails to respond to your claim, consider filing a complaint with the Department of Transportation at: https://www.transportation.gov/airconsumer/file-consumer-complaint. DOT is responsible for enforcing the regulations and can impose any applicable penalties or sanctions. You can also submit a complaint to the Consumer Counsel: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please note that these are general rules and may not apply to all flights.
The information contained in this article is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal advice to any individual or entity. This information is not intended to create, and the reading of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.