Lost luggage, ignored claim

By | July 17th, 2007

Q: My parents and I recently traveled between Los Angeles and Istanbul on British Airways. Three of our checked bags were misplaced by the airline. We reported our loss when we arrived in Istanbul, and British Airways promised to send our luggage to our home address.

After two weeks, the airline said it could not find our bags and sent us a claim form. We were asked us to provide receipts for all our missing items. But we didn’t have the receipts for our belongings, as it had been at least six months since we bought them.

British Airways told us to contact the merchants and get duplicate copies of the receipts. We did, and we faxed those receipts to the airline. It’s been four months and we still haven’t heard a thing from British Airways.

The only way to contact a British Airways customer-service representative is by e-mail, fax or letter. There’s no phone number I can call. We have repeatedly tried to contact the airline through every available channel, but haven’t received a single reply.

This has been a terrible experience for us. Would you please help us?

— Izlen Umut Egeli, Northridge, Calif.

A: British Airways should have delivered your luggage to you while you were in Istanbul. When it didn’t, it should have reimbursed you promptly for your lost property.

Under the Montreal Convention, British Airways is liable for the destruction, loss or damage to baggage up to 1,230 euros. There’s an exception for a defective bag, and you can get more from the airline if you make a special claim at check-in and pay a supplementary fee.

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Your case is particularly interesting in light of the airline’s recent decision to charge some passengers more for their baggage. For example, on certain international routes, you will be charged an extra 120 pounds per bag if you have more than two bags to check.

I’m not denying that British Airways has the right to make you pay whatever it wants for carrying your luggage. But it seems to me that if the airline is charging passengers for luggage before they even board the plane, then it should reimburse them with the same speed when it loses their luggage.

The system you describe for tracking lost baggage is a source of endless complaint about British Airways’ North American operations. As a troubleshooter, I’ve heard from many exasperated passengers who have tried to navigate the airline’s bureaucratic maze of fax numbers, unresponsive phone agents and paperwork requirements. Many tell me that they have given up in despair.

My best advice is to never trust an airline with your luggage. Ever. If you need your bags to be delivered to your hotel, consider packing light and hiring an overnight delivery service such as Luggage Concierge to transport anything that won’t fit in your luggage.

Of course, not everyone can afford a luggage concierge. So if you’re going to hand your luggage over to an airline, how do you make sure it doesn’t become another statistic?

First, make sure you aren’t packing anything that isn’t covered by the airline’s contract of carriage, the legal agreement between you and the airline. That usually includes cameras, electronics and anything fragile. For the rest, make sure you have a receipt (or can readily find a receipt).

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I contacted British Airways for you. It reviewed your case and mailed you a check for $2,900 to cover your loss.

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