An epic win on the high seas for self-advocacy

By | November 11th, 2016

When a cruise ship departed London without all the passengers’ luggage on board, some people waited and hoped that the cruise line and the airlines would work together to reunite them with their lost bags.

Susan McWilliams didn’t have to sit around hoping and waiting. She knew about the company contacts we list on our website — and she used them.

Aer Lingus delayed McWilliams’ flight out of San Francisco in September. She and her husband were traveling to London, via Dublin, to embark on a cruise. The delay caused them to miss their connection in Dublin, but they were accommodated on another flight an hour later. They arrived in London, but their luggage did not.

McWilliams completed Aer Lingus’ lost baggage forms at London Heathrow and provided the address of her hotel in Southampton, emphasizing that she and her husband would depart on a cruise the following day. Aer Lingus assured her that the lost bags would receive a manager’s attention and would be on the next flight.

The following day, McWilliams and her husband departed on the cruise — without their luggage.

Passenger services on board the cruise ship took over the communication with Aer Lingus and reported that the bags would arrive in Rotterdam on day two of the cruise. But the ship left also departed Rotterdam without McWilliams’ luggage.

McWilliams is a regular reader of Christopher Elliott’s column in the San Francisco Chronicle. When yet another port of call arrival and departure passed without a luggage delivery from Aer Lingus, she took matters into her own hands.

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Using the ship’s WiFi, she searched our website for the Aer Lingus Company Contacts and emailed the executives. Within hours she had received apologetic emails from all three executives, with promises to resolve the luggage issue.

Even with the help of the executives, conflicting messages regarding the location and expected delivery of the luggage continued. But eight days after the cruise began, McWilliams’ bags were finally delivered to the ship at a port in Iceland.

After confirming to the executives that the bags had finally arrived, McWilliams also promised to be in touch when she returned to the U.S. to pursue compensation.

McWilliams’ case is an excellent example of knowing your rights and successfully self-advocating. McWilliams followed Aer Lingus’ General Guidelines for Delayed/Missing Baggage, completing the paperwork before leaving the airport and reporting the still-missing luggage to the cruise ship’s passenger services team upon embarkation.

McWilliams also familiarized herself with the Aer Lingus Delayed/Missing Baggage Entitlements and with Article 22 of the Montreal Convention, which sets forth limits on liability for lost and damaged baggage at 1,000 Special Drawing Rights (SDR) per person.

We have written many times about the Montreal Convention and its use of this international currency in liability limits. The SDR was established by the International Monetary Fund in 1969, and can be exchanged for freely usable currencies. The value is based on a basket of five major currencies: the U.S. dollar, the euro, the Chinese renminbi (RMB), the Japanese yen, and the British pound sterling.

When requesting reimbursement, McWilliams was well informed about the Montreal Convention and its limits. Citing her already well-documented paper and email trail, she emailed Aer Lingus customer service management and within 24 hours received an email promising full reimbursement of $3,174 (the current value of 2,000 SDR, converted to U.S. dollars at the time McWilliams made the claim). Aer LIngus also offered McWilliams a $1,000 voucher toward future travel.

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McWilliams told us “This never would have happened without you, since I was able to contact the people who count because of your website.” While we greatly appreciate the compliment, this also wouldn’t have happened without an informed consumer who knows her rights, knows the company’s rules, documents her efforts towards resolution, and writes concise, polite emails to the right people.

There were other passengers who arrived at the ship without luggage, and McWilliams doesn’t believe they received their bags during the cruise. She thinks they didn’t know about Christopher Elliott.

We’re thrilled to hear that we helped McWilliams be informed and advocate for herself. We are filing this as a Problem Solved!

  • Frank Clarke

    I’m not sure I would call this “a win” if it were MY luggage.

    “A wn” is a Seahawk helicopter appearing over the prow of the ship lowering a cargo net containing all the missing bags.

  • SierraRose 49

    Congrats to Susan McWilliams who did everything by the Elliott Book of Advocacy and won. Aer Lingus also deserves and received some very good publicity at the site, which puts high marks in my future travel book.

  • jsn55

    An extremely enjoyable story, Michelle. Granted, 8 days is a long time to be cruising without luggage, but at least she got the bags delivered finally. In these days of ‘radio tagging’, you’d think that AL would have known exactly where her bags were. But in the case of a missed connection, I suppose there were a great number of bags that did not reach the same destination their owners did. And there’s always the issue of shipping bags between countries and the various formalities involved.

  • jsn55

    Soooooooooo true! Very clever.

  • PsyGuy

    She didn’t have her begs for her cruise, it took them EIGHT days to get the bags.

  • PsyGuy

    No a win would involve someone in a tux landing on the cruise ship in a helicopter and personally delivering her luggage with a bottle of champagne to her cabin.

  • PsyGuy

    The bags were 8 days late on a cruise. I’m not feeling all rosey about the airline.All I learned is don’t check baggage.

  • The Original Joe S

    Pretty cunning of Aer Lingus to promise the bags and not deliver……

  • gpx21dlr

    Be real. Going on a cruise w/o checking any baggage on a connecting flight is unrealistic and not practical.

  • PsyGuy

    That is realistic, I do that. I bring a laptop backpack as my personal item and a pilot case, and this is for a 7 day cruise.

  • The Original Joe S

    She begged for the bags, but they didn’t deliver……

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