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 an airline refer its passenger to the police department to investigate a simple 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 said that it must have been lost or stolen between the plane and the carousel.”

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 type of reimbursement for her belongings.

The answer was predictable: It would not. Further, British Airways told her that the case was closed. 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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Instead, Epee-Bounyna turned to us for help.

Looking through the paper trail that Epee-Bounya provided me, I could find no indication as to why she had been given the atypical advice to involve the police in what appeared to be a simple lost baggage claim.

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 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.

I combed through the British Airways website to find, if perhaps, this type of advice is a new step in a missing bag 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.

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

This regulation requires airlines to provide reimbursement of up to 1,000 Special Drawing Rights (SDR), or about $1,400, when a passenger’s checked luggage has gone missing from or been damaged on an international flight.

Nowhere in the Montreal Convention does it require or suggest that a passenger must involve local authorities to process a standard lost baggage claim. Or that an airline is relieved of its responsibility under this regulation because the luggage was lost en route to the baggage carousel.

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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 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 a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, consumer advocate, writer and photographer who spends as much time as possible exploring the world with her family. She is Advocacy & Editorial Director at Elliott.org.

  • SirWIred

    You have to wonder how many other perfectly legit lost-luggage requests this rep tried to deflect.

    BA, of course, is welcome to blame whomever they like, but if that thing doesn’t get spit out by the carousel, it doesn’t really matter to the passenger.

    Since this was a flight to Boston, she should probably file a DOT complaint. Even though the matter was resolved, this was not a legal way to try and dodge liability.

  • Alan Gore

    The BA lost baggage department used the classic “get rid of this annoying foreigner by sending her to the wrong place” ploy. Their mistake was to admit to LW that the theft occurred between the plane and the carousel, which automatically makes it their responsibility for dealing with a ramp rat problem. LW lucked out: they could have claimed a theft off the carousel, which happens a lot and generally has to be dealt with by the airport police.

  • Bill___A

    And have BA disciplined the employee involved? This employee caused a lot of stress and wasted time.

  • Hanope

    These days, in the wake of Wells Fargo, I have to wonder if the employee was “encouraged” to decrease the number of lost luggage claims.

  • Steve Rabin

    I don’t think anyone will argue (even in the DOT)–if you check a bag, it is the airline’s responsibility until it is delivered to the carousel (and arguably until it gets removed from the carousel). If a baggage handler stole the bag, then the police should be involved, but it’s BA who should prosecute–they are still on the hook for the value of the bag.

  • Attention All Passengers

    Scary to think who/what works for airlines these days (make it up as you go along)……and no one is held accountable as well, just dump the problem on the customer/passenger.

  • greg watson

    More likely that employee was acting on his own………………..because he was too lazy to deal with the situation properly……………can we say……… ‘your fired’ ?

  • Noah Kimmel

    Southwest of all airlines tried to do this to me a few years ago. They damaged my bag and the agent told me to go home and file a claim, knowing that once I left the airport, they are no longer responsible. She changed stories to say that they dont cover wheel or handle damage, even though the bag had a tear in the side (as well as destroyed wheel). Took threat of a DOT complaint to get it resolved.

    Sadly, no one is immune to this – mix of poor training, misinformation, and frustrated / uneducated customers. Glad the OP was persistent and got what she deserved!

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    This is typical of most customer service today since most companies do not invest in customer service since most consumers are not willing to pay for it.

  • joycexyz

    Sometimes I get the impression that a rep has just been hired off the street with zero training (“Hey, wanna stand here for a while and listen to some whiney complaints? Do anything to make them go away.”). The moronic “advice” is unbelievable! The passenger needs to file complaints with every agency imaginable.

  • joycexyz

    Bet she got a raise!

  • Attention All Passengers

    You’ve got a point but sometimes the people right above the clerk/street level rep is not much better.

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