Injured on a flight? Don’t forget to file a report

“Please be careful when opening the overhead bins, as items may have shifted during flight.” If you’re a frequent traveler like me, you’ve heard that phrase so many times that you could give the instructions yourself.

But what happens when a flight attendant fails to heed that warning? Sin Nga Ho found out on a recent flight, and she asked us to help her get compensation for her injuries.

Ho was traveling on a Swiss International Air Lines flight between London and Zurich when a flight attendant opened the overhead bin directly above her seat, and a heavy bag fell on her head. Upon landing in Zurich, she informed the flight attendant who had opened the bin that she was injured and needed to see a doctor.

The flight attendant told her that the terminal clinic was closed and she would have to go to the hospital outside the airport by herself. According to Ho, he also told her that she would probably miss her flight to Hong Kong if she chose to go to the hospital. He gave her the email address of the customer service team and instructed her to contact them.

Ho says she felt like he didn’t want to help her, and she didn’t want to miss her flight to Hong Kong, so she didn’t go to the hospital. She says she visited a doctor in Hong Kong, she kept the receipts for the visit and the medicine she received, and she emailed customer service.

She received two emails from Swiss that indicated it had “a high volume of requests” and a response would be delayed. After eight weeks with no substantive response, she contacted us. Ho asked us to help her recover $5,000 from Swiss.

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Our advocate asked Ho for a copy of an incident report from the airport or the airline, but she hadn’t filed one with either because her transit time in Zurich was only two hours and it didn’t seem like enough time to file any reports. But she also told us that she was “sure the airline people know this incident because they had a staff [member] walked me to the gate which my next flight back to Hong Kong.”

We’re not sure how Ho came up with the $5,000 figure she thinks Swiss should pay her, but it seems like a random number she picked. It’s possible that there are receipts and reports documenting that she has suffered financial losses amounting to that number but they were never provided to us.

This case reminded us of two other recent incidents where a passenger claimed an in-flight injury. Those could have been valid if procedures had been followed, reports had been filed, receipts had been submitted, and if the consumers hadn’t demanded unsubstantiated amounts of money. In the first case, a passenger suffered a “near-fatal” curtain rod injury, and in the second case a flight attendant hit a passenger’s knee with the beverage cart.

In Ho’s case, unfortunately, without any report that documents the incident, there isn’t much we can do since we have only her word that the flight attendant aboard that flight was responsible for the injury that was treated sometime afterward. Ho could appeal to the contacts we list for Swiss International Air Lines, but we can’t help her.

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If you’re ever injured in flight, it’s not only important to be certain a report is filed with the airline to protect yourself financially; it’s also imperative to ensure your injuries are not serious or life-threatening. If you purchased travel insurance, this is also the best time to contact the company, as there may be coverage available if you have to delay or cancel your travels.

Michelle Bell

Michelle worked in the travel and hospitality industry for almost two decades. Born in Germany, she has lived in 15 states and two foreign countries, and traveled to more than 35 countries. After living and working in Southeast Asia for several years, she now resides in New Orleans.

  • Michael__K

    She should certainly provide receipts to substantiate her expenses, but on what authority could she have forced the airline to even allow her to “file a report”?
    What prevents the airline from saying “No”, go to the hospital, forfeit your non-refundable connecting flight, and, oh, here’s how to contact our customer service team afterward?

  • finance_tony

    If you’re injured enough to go to a hospital, you go to the hospital. Judge Judy 101: if you didn’t get treated for your injuries, you don’t get paid as though you were. Five thousand dollars?!?

  • Joe Blasi

    Five thousand dollars is about right for ER + x-rays out of market.

  • Dan

    I would be willing to bet that every airline on the face of the earth (eh, maybe not Air Koryo) has a policy where employees are required to fill out an incident report when any incident occurs with pax.

    If one flight attendant refuses to fill a report, then escalate to the purser. If that fails, talk to the pilot as you exit the plane. If that fails, tell the gate agent. If that fails, go to a customer service desk and ask for a manager. If that fails, find someone who works for the airport security and ask for a report. Someone, somewhere should have enough sense to realize a report is required.

  • Michael__K

    There are strict laws in place (at least in the US) requiring carriers to provide passengers with paperwork documenting over-booking and baggage liability, and yet the DOT has repeatedly fined carriers for not complying with those laws…. In this case, there isn’t even any such legal obligation AFAIK….
    Of course by the time the customer tries to escalate like you suggest, they are “No Shows” and easily thousand of dollars in the hole for a new ticket — and they still don’t necessarily have any filed report to show for their efforts.

  • Michael__K

    And if you need medical attention for injuries suffered on a flight, but it’s not life threatening and you judge you could wait for a few hours if necessary, then what?
    Who said she wasn’t treated for her injuries?

    “She says she visited a doctor in Hong Kong, she kept the receipts for the visit and the medicine she received, and she emailed customer service.”

  • C Schwartz

    Maybe in the US but not in most other countries. I have seen drs in Italy, France, Spain, and even in Beijing (but not HK) and the costs were reasonable. I went to the American Hospital in Paris which is private and the dr was great and the charge was around $100. Most countries have strict price controls (i.e. regulations) so health care is no where near as costly as it is in the US.

  • C Schwartz

    What is also problematic is that the traveler did provide and documents to justify the claim of $5,000.

  • BubbaJoe123

    According to the article, the traveler did NOT provide those docs.

  • Annie M

    If she has no documents – how on earth can you know she even WENT to the doctor?


  • Travelnut

    A few years ago I got off my connecting flight in Philadelphia on my way to Vienna. It had been raining and they had put out a rubber mat that didn’t lie flat to the floor, and I tripped on it, fell flat on my face and banged up my knee pretty badly. I told the gate agent about it, not to report the injury or get compensation but just that I thought they needed to secure the mat so no one else tripped. While he asked if I wanted to file a report, he didn’t seem overly concerned for my welfare. I thought about it, and decided to proceed to Vienna. If I had filed a report, perhaps they wouldn’t have let me on the flight at all, and I also thought it might take so much time that I would miss the flight anyway. It hurt for a couple of days but I never had to get medical attention. Now that I read this, I’m happy it wasn’t more serious and I didn’t need to submit a doctor’s bill for reimbursement. I learn from this column!

  • Michael__K

    In some places, including Hong Kong, there is one (very affordable) fee schedule for “Eligible Persons”, and another fee schedule (costing 15x as much or more) for “Non-eligible Persons.”

  • finance_tony

    Yet she didn’t go to the ER.

  • C Schwartz

    That was foolish of me to leave out the word not– you are right the problem is lack of documentation.

  • Alan Gore

    Most passengers who were in your situation would make the same calculation while enroute.

  • Lindabator

    SAYS – but would not submit them

  • Michael__K

    According to the article the advocates asked her for an “incident report” and then they decided they wouldn’t advocate without an “incident report.” Did the advocates ever ask for and offer to advocate based on her receipts alone — receipts which she was apparently willing to submit to the airline in her original correspondence which yielded no substantive response from the airline after 8 weeks?

  • cscasi

    She has no report of the injury filed with the airline or anyone else, except what she told a doctor on Hong Kong. How could she prove when and how her injury occurred?

  • Michael__K

    If the agent who opened the bin and the agent who told her to email customer service and the agent who escorted her to her connecting flight don’t all deny that the incident happened, then she doesn’t need to prove that.

  • pauletteb

    The ONE time I sat in an aisle seat on SWA, I got hit in the head by a power cord falling out of an open backpack an FA had taken away from a yabbo in a bulkhead seat who thought he could just leave it on the floor in front of him. I was more surprised than anything, but the FA was very solicitous, making sure I was OK . . . and then keeping me well supplied with Bailey’s. Fortunately, my daughter was picking me up!

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