Denied a lost luggage claim on a technicality — can you help?

When Kelly Paulson’s luggage is lost, she follows the airline’s instructions but is left with no luggage and unexpected expenses. Why? She doesn’t have an “official” claim number. Now what?

Question: I recently flew on KLM Royal Dutch Airlines from Seattle to Oslo, Norway, via Amsterdam. When I arrived in Oslo, I found out that my luggage and that of 70 other passengers was missing. There was only one KLM representative at the airport. Because of the number of passengers waiting in line, we were instructed to file the missing property report online, and that we would be compensated for the replacement cost of necessary items.

After filing the report, I received a confirmation message that, because of technical problems, a temporary file reference number had been issued. It stated that a final Property Irregularity Report would be sent to me via email when the system was back up and running. I did not receive one, and it has become the source of my complaint.

I spent $202 on toiletries and a change of clothing. When I inquired about my luggage with KLM, I was again told that I would receive compensation, and that the airline would deliver my bag to the hotel when it was found. That did not happen. After waiting three days with no word from KLM, I had to pay for transportation back to the airport to check on the status of my luggage. A representative located it in a storage room. I also lost money on a prepaid tour of the Oslo Opera House, because of the time it took at the airport. I would like to be reimbursed for that, as well as my transportation costs.

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When I returned home, I filed another claim and was informed that Delta was now handling the KLM cases for those who reside in the U.S. I emailed copies of my receipts, airline tickets, and KLM’s confirmation message and temporary file claim number to a representative of Delta. I have been unable to get this issue resolved for several months. The representative said that she was unable to get the reimbursement approved without an official missing property number.

I contacted KLM a couple of weeks ago and have not received a response. I need your help! I just want to get reimbursed for the money I spent due to the airline losing my luggage. — Kelly Paulson, Seattle

Answer: This case is a reminder of how important a paper trail is in resolving a problem. Companies want proof, and the “customer’s word” does not go very far. You have done a great job of communicating with KLM and Delta and have been very patient with a problem that has continued for almost four months.

You were denied a lost luggage claim on a technicality, even though you followed standard procedure by initiating a missing property report the day your luggage was lost. The error resulted from a computer glitch with KLM.

You were left to deal with the problem, because KLM never issued you a final Property Irregularity Report number. If KLM was able to provide a temporary file reference number, there should be a record of that in its system. Otherwise, it should have given you an error message that your claim was not processed.

You are justified in asking for a reimbursement of expenses. According to KLM’s delayed or lost baggage policy,

If your bag was lost, damaged or something was missing from it, please contact KLM Customer Care to request reimbursement of expenses and/or compensation.

It is disappointing that KLM did not notify you when your luggage was found. It should have offered to deliver it to your hotel. Instead, after three days had passed with no word on your luggage, you had to pay for transportation back to the airport to find out if it had been located. It also cut into your touring time.

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What is most disconcerting is how Delta handled your request for reimbursement. There were 20 emails between you and the same Delta representative. Instead of sending you one message with a list of what Delta required (like a copy of your receipts, airline tickets, reference number, number of bags, what airline you flew on, and more), the representative sent only one request at a time and then asked again for information you had already sent.

Even though you forwarded a screenshot of KLM’s confirmation of a report being filed, along with the temporary file number assigned, the representative said that KLM does not issue temporary claim numbers. This went on for several months. Your responses were always pleasant and concise.

It looks like Delta’s representative was not willing to take the initiative to get this problem resolved. Having Delta handle correspondence addressed to KLM probably did not help either.

Sometimes a successful resolution depends on the person you are dealing with and how much effort they are willing to put forth on your behalf. If you are unable to come to a reasonable solution with a company representative, escalate your request to a higher level. We provide a list of company executives and their contact information on our company contacts section.

When consumers reach an impasse with a company and don’t know what to do, they turn to our advocates. What many may not know is that these fine advocates working behind the scenes are offering their time at no cost to the consumer. They review the matter objectively and attempt to negotiate a reasonable solution.

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We are glad that you chose to reach out to our advocates on our advocacy site. They jumped in and started working on your behalf and did a great job of helping you resolve this problem. Delta agreed to issue you a refund for $202 and gave you a travel voucher for $100.

Stephanie Patterson

Stephanie is a published book author and travel columnist with a focus on preparation and protocol. She is committed to helping travelers be informed and avoid potential problems while traveling. Stephanie's most recent book is "Know Before You Go: Traveling the U.S. and Abroad". For travel insight when planning your trip, visit Know Before You Go Travel. Along with writing, Stephanie does interior designing. Read more of Stephanie's articles here.

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