Why is British Airways referring me to the police department to find my lost bag?

Alexandra Epee-Bounya arrived at the baggage claim carousel after her flight from London. Her luggage didn’t. But her story went from annoying to bizarre when British Airways referred her to the police department to locate her belongings. Why would the airline refer its passenger to the police department to investigate a lost luggage claim?

That’s what Epee-Bounya wants to know.

“After my flight, when my bag did not arrive, the representative I spoke to told me that my bag was definitely on my flight to Boston,” Epee-Bounya says. “He then told me that my bag must have been lost or stolen between the plane and the carousel.”

An unconventional approach to a lost luggage claim

Unfortunate, but not unusual. However, when Epee-Bounya asked what she should do next, the BA representative recommended something quite unconventional.

“The next step suggested by this representative was to file a police report,” she told us. “I did so, but the state policeman said that British Airways was still responsible and that if anything, BA should be filing a police report, not me.”

It was no surprise that the police department, citing more important things to investigate, declined to pursue this missing luggage caper any further.

After Epee-Bounya received a copy of her complaint from the bemused police officer, she went back to British Airways and asked how this would lead to any reimbursement for her belongings.

The answer was predictable: It would not. Further, British Airways then closed her case. The representative explained:

As your luggage was carried on the same flight as you, I’m afraid we’re no longer responsible for it and we’re unable to consider your claim. If you believe your luggage was stolen when you arrived, you should report the theft to the police at Boston and we’ll certainly co-operate fully with any investigation. You may be able to make a claim through your travel insurance.

This representative also went on to say that if Epee-Bounya did not agree with BA’s “resolution” she could file a complaint with the European Commission through its online dispute center.

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Turning to our advocacy team

Instead, Epee-Bounyna asked our advocacy team for help.

Looking through her paper trail, I could find no indication as to why the BA employee had given her the atypical advice to involve the police.

When Epee-Bounya checked her bag in London and received a baggage claim tag, she should have had all the documentation that she needed to file a lost luggage claim.

The BA representative acknowledged that the bag went missing somewhere between its removal from the aircraft and its expected arrival at the baggage carousel. What remains unclear is why the agent believed that this detail removed BA’s obligation to its passenger.

A new British Airways protocol?

I combed through the British Airways website to find if perhaps, this type of advice is a new step in a lost baggage claim process.

It isn’t.

The instructions from British Airways make no mention of involving the police department when a checked bag does not arrive at the baggage carousel as planned.

In fact, the steps are straightforward, and Epee-Bounya had followed the described claim process.

The Montreal Convention

Missing and damaged luggage reimbursement requirements are covered under Article 22 of the Montreal Convention.

When a passenger’s luggage goes missing on an international flight, this regulation requires airlines to provide reimbursement of up to 1,131 Special Drawing Rights  (about $1,600).

Nowhere in the Montreal Convention does it require or suggest that a passenger must involve local authorities to process a standard lost baggage claim. It also does not relieve an airline of its responsibility if the luggage became lost en route to the baggage carousel.

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The good news

So what happened here?

I went to our contact at British Airways to find out what piece of this puzzle was missing.

As it turns out, it seems that the error rests with the original representative at British Airways. He was the one who closed Epee-Bounya’s case and sent her to the police department instead of following the established protocol.

British Airways reopened and reviewed Epee-Bounya’s claim. The airline has now fulfilled its obligation and provided her with the $1,200 reimbursement that she was seeking.

Michelle Couch-Friedman

Michelle is the executive director of Elliott.org. She is a consumer advocate, SEO-lady, writer and licensed clinical social worker who spends as much time as possible exploring the world with her family. Contact her at Michelle Friedman Read more of Michelle's articles here.

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