NC Aviation Law Attorney

Lost Luggage News For Airline Travelers

NEWS TO AIR TRAVELLERS:  Beginning February 28, 2011, the United States government is requiring the airlines to pay a MAXIMUM of $3,000 for lost luggage on domestic flights.  This is an increase of $200 over the amount the Department of Transportation established seven years ago. 

That does not mean, however, that you will get this amount if your bag is lost.  The government will still leave the final determination as to amount to the airlines for lost or damaged luggage.  Further, the procedures for recovery are complicated, time-consuming, and work in favor of the airlines.  Additionally, on many items—the more high-priced items, such as cameras, computers and jewelry, for example—the airlines are especially stingy.

As background, in 2006, domestic travelers filed more than 4 million reports of mishandled bags, up 40% from 2005. DOT estimates 98% of misplaced bags are eventually found, however.

But the airlines’ rules vary about whether to apply allowances to pay customers for delayed bags against this limit.  Some don’t, some do.

“There are no hard and fast rules. It’s very unique to each customer,” American spokesman Tim Wagner says. “No one’s happy. We’re going to go step by step to get their possessions back.”

Consumers who have filed claims say the process is difficult. They must wait several days before filing a claim, which requires a detailed list of contents. Southwest says its claims process starts if it can’t find the luggage in five days. American says it will “exhaust” the search process before it pays customers.

It is a good idea to keep receipts for items in the luggage, even though the amount airlines pay is based on depreciated, not replacement, value.  A photo and a detailed list of items in the bag is also a good idea.

As a fall-back position, you can declare your luggage to be whatever it is worth and then purchase insurance and buy what the airlines call “excess value” insurance sold by airlines at check-in. But even this “extra insurance” might have an upper limit.

We suggest that you avoid putting anything valuable into checked luggage.  But if you must, make sure you are covered BEFORE you leave your home. Check with your homeowner’s policy to see if it covers travel losses, and check with your credit card companies because they often have insurance for items purchased on their cards.

 James T. Crouse

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