Case dismissed: She didn’t file her luggage claim on time

If the first word that comes to mind when I say “lost luggage” is Alitalia, then you’ve probably been reading this site for a while.

Then again, maybe the Italian carrier has “misplaced” your checked bags in the past. Maybe your story had a happy ending.

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Lori DiGilio’s, unfortunately, does not — despite my best efforts.

Here’s what should happen when a bags don’t show up, as hers didn’t on a recent flight to Italy. You report the bag as missing, and if it isn’t found, the airline processes a claim and reimburses you. Under the Montreal Convention, you’re required to file your paperwork within 21 days of the flight.

I had a recent story that explains the ins and outs of lost luggage.

DiGilio thought she was following procedure when she filled out a so-called “irregularity” report. But she can’t be sure. Part of the form is in Italian, which she doesn’t speak.

“The resort in Germany where we were vacationing was kind enough to call Alitalia daily to see what the status of our lost luggage was,” she says. “At one point, we were told by the receptionist at our resort, that Alitalia told her we should start making a list of everything we had in the lost luggage. We did.”

DiGilio thought she was doing everything she needed. No one from Alitalia told her she was required to file a formal luggage claim beyond the irregularity report. She was led to believe that her resort was working the situation out with Alitalia, which turned out to not be true.

When she returned to the States, she began calling Alitalia. But it wasn’t easy. She phoned the airline’s “lost luggage” number, which was a maddening maze of prompts that dead-ended with fast-busy signals and voicemails.

“It was exasperating,” she told me. “First, you have to press one for English. Then you have to listen for your city of arrival. Then you listen to a recording that doesn’t make sense. Then they say, ‘Please try again.'”

The point is, she tried to reach Alitalia several times — all within the 21-day window — to file a claim. But she couldn’t reach anyone.

Finally, she emailed the airline. Here’s how it responded:

Please accept our sincere apologies for the inconvenience you incurred regarding your luggage.

Allow us to explain that claim settlements are governed by the provisions found in Article 31 of the Montreal Convention of 1999 on file with the United States Department of Transportation.

These regulations state that in the case of damage, pilferage and/or expenses incurred as a result of the delay of the checked baggage, passengers must file claims in writing within 21 days of the date the delayed luggage is delivered. Failure to submit written notice of the claim within the time frame indicated releases the carrier from liability.

Our records show that we did not receive written notice within 21 days of the delivery. As a result we have no choice but to respectfully deny your request for reimbursement.

Really?

I can understand throwing the book in DiGilio’s face if she’s never told a soul about her lost luggage. But she filed a report and made numerous good-faith efforts to contact the carrier.

I thought Alitalia was being unreasonable and should honor her claim. So I contacted the airline on her behalf.

“If pax was not within the required timeframe (see Montreal Convention 1999) we cannot make exceptions,” my contact replied. “Pax have access to info on our website as well. Thanks.”

“Pax” is airline lingo for “passenger.”

Sigh.

I’m going to have to let this one go, even though I think DiGilio did her best. True, if she’d taken the time to read Alitalia’s website, she would have known about the required forms and might have filed the correct paperwork within 21 days.

At the same time, it’s undeniable that Alitalia has placed several obstacles, including that ridiculous 800-number, in the way of customers who want nothing more than to be reunited with their long-lost luggage.

(Photo: rogi mmi/Flickr Creative Commons)