Three years later, Alitalia still owes me $528 for my lost baggage and ruined Italian vacation

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By Christopher Elliott

Noah Markewich’s lost-luggage case, involving Alitalia, seemed like a lost cause when he contacted me last week.

Why? It involved Alitalia, the historically troubled Italian airline.

It was more than three years old. Old cases are almost always unsolvable.

And it involved misplaced baggage, which is a problematic complaint category.

Still, Markewich epic, four-page, single-spaced letter is such a stunning documentation of an airline’s awful customer service, that I wish I could publish it in its entirety. It describes how Alitalia ruined his Italian vacation by losing his luggage — and when I say “ruin” it may be something of an understatement.

An excerpt from the letter

But let me excerpt from it, if you don’t mind:

On June 19th, 2007, we flew Alitalia flight AZ717 from Athens to Rome, connecting with Alitalia flight AZ1463 from Rome to Venice. We each had one checked bag, and Alitalia lost Jennifer’s en route, tag number AZ877762, file reference VCEAZ38232.

It took you 18 days to return this bag, and even then you sent it to our home address in the U.S., though we were still abroad. For the final 21 days of our five-week trip in Europe, Jennifer was without the bag Alitalia lost.

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Of course, Jennifer had to live without or replace the items she had so carefully chosen and packed, at considerable expense and inconvenience to both of us. But that doesn’t even begin to tell the story.

With few exceptions, your offices left us interminably on hold, randomly disconnected us, or intentionally hung up on us after curtly begrudging us a few impatient moments.

When we were “lucky” enough to get someone to stay on the phone, they seldom had any useful information, often misled or misinformed us, and sometimes outright lied. In short, Alitalia led us on a wild goose chase around Italy, which burned up so much time and money that it essentially ruined our trip. (Related: CSA Czech Airlines lost my luggage, but it won’t reimburse my expenses.)

He details in the rest of his letter the numerous efforts he made to recover his luggage—efforts that Alitalia representatives repeatedly foiled with their indifference, lack of concern, or outright rudeness.

Markewich’s request for compensation is met with a written promise of a $528 check to cover some of his incidental expenses. But the check never arrived. (Related: A real lost luggage whodunnit.)

Alitalia had gone under

A year later, Alitalia followed up with bad news: Alitalia had gone under and his claim was now in bankruptcy court.

As you also may have heard, a private Italian investor group known as C.A.I., or Compagnia Aerea Italiana, S.p.A., purchased certain of
Alitalia’s assets – including its trade name – on or about January 13, 2009. C.A.I. is now know as Alitalia-Compagnia Aerea Italiana, S.p.A.

Although we share the same name – “Alitalia” – the new company is completely independent from the bankrupt company in all respects.

Because of this, we are unable to discuss your claim with you and, in any event, have no authority or jurisdiction over its possible resolution.

Thank you for your understanding and cooperation.

That may well be legally correct, but witholding Markewich’s $528 check on a technicality is wrong. I contacted Alitalia on his behalf. (Here’s what to do if an airline loses your checked luggage.)

Yesterday, it responded to me:

The passenger has already received a reply from us. We cannot assist as his case pertains to the old company. The old Alitalia went bankrupt in August 2008.

Alitalia CAI is a completely different and separate company and we’re prohibited from discussing or settling case pertaining to the bankrupt company.

Like I said, lost cause.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. He is based in Los Angeles.

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