Why has my luggage gone missing on Airberlin?

If you’re planning to fly Airberlin any time soon, consider traveling without luggage or shipping it ahead to your final destination.

Our advocates and our forum members have been seeing a big uptick in cases involving missing and delayed luggage on Airberlin. We’re wondering: Why is Airberlin having so much trouble transporting luggage with its owners?

Consider the case of Dan Pagoda. He recently contacted us regarding a flight from Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, to Berlin last Christmas Eve. He arrived in Berlin on time, but his luggage did not.

Here’s Pagoda:

I’m an Australian who had a flight with Airberlin last December from Abu Dhabi to Berlin, arriving Christmas Eve. My luggage was delayed and delivered to the hotel [on] Christmas night after a 30-hour delay. Airberlin refused to reimburse expenses for essentials, saying my purchases were of everyday items that I would have had to purchase at some point in the future anyway; I simply had to bring forward that purchase.

On returning to Australia I sued Airberlin in my local court for breach of the Montreal Convention. Airberlin ignored the claim and the court ruled against [it], which the airline similarly ignored. I persisted with further court action.

A week ago I received an email from its legal department in Berlin offering to pay the 125 euros ($143) of expenses I incurred. I replied immediately, saying no, Airberlin owed me AU$535 ($419), and I would be continuing legal action in Australia until [Airberlin] paid in full. I received a reply on the following business day saying Airberlin would pay the full amount. Three days later the money was in my Australian bank account.

International flights on Airberlin are covered under the Montreal Convention, which provides that

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.

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 [about $1,390] for each passenger.

Airberlin’s terms and conditions provide with regard to baggage delays:

In the event of baggage delay, the air carrier is liable for damage unless it took all reasonable measures to avoid the damage or it was impossible to take such measures. The liability for baggage delay is limited to 1,131 SDRs [approximately $1,573].

So Pagoda’s loss should have been fully compensated by Airberlin. Why did Pagoda have to threaten Airberlin with legal action? Why didn’t Airberlin follow the letter of its own terms and conditions?

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Two other Airberlin passengers asking this question are Marta Sasinowska and Timothy Duke, who posted about their cases in our forum.

Sasinowska has been trying for nine days to get Airberlin to respond to her missing luggage claim. Airberlin’s agents keep referring her to its World Tracer site, but it contains no information at all. They refuse to let her speak to any supervisors when she calls the airline to ask for help.

She also had the following hair-raising experience when she tried to deal with Airberlin in person:

I even went to speak to the Airberlin supervisor in Chicago, who took me to show me the bags lost by Airberlin that it stores at the airport. There were hundreds of unattended bags there (!!!!) but mine wasn’t one of them. Seeing them made me less confident that I will ever get my luggage back. I mean, they store piles of luggage there, but their owners don’t even know they are there because Airberlin doesn’t contact anyone.

Duke, like Sasinowska, is also waiting for Airberlin to contact him regarding his missing luggage:

Airberlin lost my luggage. Unfortunately, I did not have my baggage stub when I filled out the “Property Irregularity Report [PIR].” The agent filed the report; we have a copy but it does not include the necessary “file number.”

Without a file number we cannot track the bag. The phone number he gave me [dials an] answering machine which is full. The second number is never picked up. It is now six days and now BaggageExpress is supposed to find it. I sent them an email. I haven’t heard a thing.

BaggageExpress is a German company that “specializes in the tracing, handling and delivery of late and misdirected luggage for the aviation industry.”

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Our contacts information includes executive contact information for Airberlin. We recommend reaching out to the primary contact with a polite, concise letter detailing the situation, including flight numbers, dates and times, a description of the missing luggage, a copy of the luggage claim ticket(s), and photos of the missing luggage. In addition, we recommend photographing your luggage before giving it to an airline agent at check-in.

American passengers may file complaints with the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) if Airberlin improperly withholds payment of a valid claim, mistreats passengers or otherwise fails to honor its obligations under DOT rules. Flights on Airberlin to and from European Union countries are covered under EU 261.

If Airberlin refuses to contact any owners of missing luggage or allow them to speak to supervisors on the telephone, then it earns a grade of F in Airline Customer Service 101. We hope Airberlin will realize this and correct its customer service problems.

Update: We have heard from both Sasinowska and Duke. Sasinowska has received her missing luggage. BaggageExpress has located Duke’s missing luggage, and he is awaiting its delivery.

Jennifer Finger

Jennifer is the founder of KeenReader, an Internet-based freelance editing operation, as well as a certified public accountant. She is a senior writer for Elliott.org. Read more of Jennifer's articles here.

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