Christian Markgraaff is traveling with his baby and wife when the airline loses all their checked luggage. They purchase $1,000 worth of replacement items while waiting for their baggage to be found. Airberlin offers him a 50-euro voucher for future travel, which he rejects. Three months later Markgraaff is still trying to get compensation.
Question: I have a lost luggage compensation claim that has been going on for three months. Can you imagine what it is like arriving on an international flight with a 10-month-old baby and a wife with a broken ankle — only to find that all five pieces of baggage have been delayed? Airberlin is trying to offer me less than the full compensation in the hope that I will accept. All five bags were delayed for four days. We were told at the airport to purchase essentials and we would be refunded. When our luggage did turn up it was so badly damaged that we had to claim for damaged luggage too. Can you help? — Christian Markgraaff, Casuarina, Australia
Answer: As if international travel with a baby and injured spouse wasn’t challenging enough, it is indeed hard to imagine how demoralizing it must have been to find that allof your family’s luggage had been lost.
I also find it hard to understand how, after you filed your initial claim through their website, Airberlin thought that a 50-euro credit toward a future flight was adequate compensation.
You posted your problem to our forums, followed the advice there, and eventually Airberlin offered to compensate you 514 euros, about half of your claim for $1,000. Their rationale was that since the replacement clothing and cosmetics you bought during your stay could be kept for future use, fifty percent would be fair.
You didn’t agree, and after using the contacts provided on our advocacy website to work you way up the executive chain, to no avail, you asked our advocates for help.
The responses from our travel experts to your post in our forum highlight the key question here: What is reasonable compensation under these circumstances? Some of our experts thought the amount of your claim might be excessive, suggesting that the compensation is intended to allow you to buy only what you need to tide you over until bags are delivered.
Others thought your claim seemed fair. Travelers in less trying circumstances might wish to shop for just what they needed each day until their luggage arrived, but that would be problematic with a wife with a broken ankle and infant in tow.
The Montreal Convention does address the issue of compensation for lost luggage for international travelers:
Article 19 states:
The carrier is liable for damage occasioned by delay in the carriage by air of passengers, baggage or cargo.
Nevertheless, the carrier shall not be liable for damage occasioned by delay if it proves that it and its servants and agents took all measures that could reasonably be required to avoid the damage or that it was impossible for it or them to take such measures.
2. In the carriage of baggage, the liability of the carrier in the case of destruction, loss, damage or delay is limited to 1,000 Special Drawing Rights for each passenger unless the passenger has made, at the time when the checked baggage was handed over to the carrier, a special declaration of interest in delivery at destination and has paid a supplementary sum if the case so requires. In that case the carrier will be liable to pay a sum not exceeding the declared sum, unless it proves that the sum is greater than the passenger’s actual interest in delivery at destination
5. The foregoing provisions of paragraphs 1 and 2 of this Article shall not apply if it is proved that the damage resulted from an act or omission of the carrier, its servants or agents, done with intent to cause damage or recklessly and with knowledge that damage would probably result; provided that, in the case of such act or omission of a servant or agent, it is also proved that such servant or agent was acting within the scope of its employment.
A Special Drawing Right is an international monetary unit currently roughly equivalent to a euro, so your claim is within the amounts specified. You interpreted the portions cited here as entitling you to compensation for the full amount of your claim. But as the experts in our forum pointed out, these paragraphs merely set the maximum amounts of liability, and leave air carriers room for a broad degree of interpretation.
That forum conversation also offered other valuable advice for travelers, like the importance of having a complete change of clothes in your carry-on, as well as any baby needs. Also that people traveling together should put an outfit in each other’s suitcase.
And while we’re offering advice, we noted that your tone in the email exchange with Airberlin, quickly became belligerent, threatening legal action while misquoting the Montreal Convention.
You had every right to be angry at the initial response you received from Airberlin, but please remember that there are real people at the other end of that conversation, and treating them politely is more likely to produce a positive outcome, especially in a situation like this, where the compensation offered was subject to broad interpretation.
Nonetheless, we’re happy to hear that after our advocates intervened, Airberlin has offered you full compensation.