What would you do? They confiscated my $70 bottle of cognac, and I want it back

Editor’s note: This is the second installation of a new feature, “What would you do?” Here’s how it works: At 7 a.m. Eastern time, I present a case and ask you how you’d solve it. You can take a poll or sound off in the comments. At 5 p.m., I’ll reveal the poll results and tell you how it was fixed.

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Liquid and gel restrictions have never been particularly easy to follow for air travelers, especially when they’re on an international trip. Is it 3-1-1? Or 1-3-3? Can I bring a drink on a domestic flight within Europe?

Those are the questions Sofia Romano pondered while sitting in first class on a British Airways flight from Los Angeles to London recently. She’d been eying a bottle of cognac from the duty-free cart, and a flight attendant assured her the beverage would make a smooth transfer to her Glasgow flight. So she plunked down $70 for a bottle of Remy Martin.

But when she tried to board her flight to Scotland a few hours later, the security agents had other ideas.

I was stopped by security and told that I would not be able to take the bottle of Remy Martin with me. I showed them my receipt, plus the fact that I just came from my flight, and they said that whomever had “packed” the bottle should have packed it in a plastic bag that was sealed with the receipt inside the bag.

I told them that I just disembarked from this flight and again showed them the receipt that the only place I could purchase this item was on board. They told me that the cabin crew member “should have known” what to do.

Oops. The security guys were right. There goes a perfectly good bottle of cognac, down the drain.

Now what?

It’s pretty obvious what Romano shouldn’t do: argue with the security guys.

“OK, I’m not going to fight with them,” she says. “There’s no point.”

She adds,

But here’s the thing: The security guys that took this bottle from me would not provide me with any proof that they had taken the bottle.

They would not give me their names, any ID number or any way to identify them. One was a supervisor and kept trying to shield his ID from me. He said they had “no procedure put in place to deal with an issue like this.” I even asked them to sign my receipt or even a piece of paper saying they took this bottle from me since I knew there was no way I would be able to claim this back from anyone.

After a while he blew me off and told me that if I went to “customer service” they would help – I knew they wouldn’t and the service desk just tossed me a card telling me to complain to British Airways.

No procedure in place, huh? I can picture those security guys toasting their lack of procedure right now — with a $70 bottle of Remy Martin.

Romano has already tried the obvious, which is to send a brief, polite email to British Airways describing her problem. No response.

The way I see it, she’s left with two good options.

First, she can appeal her case to someone higher up at British Airways. I list their names and emails on my customer service wiki. BA should care that a customer in first class had their duty-free bottle of cognac confiscated by Heathrow security. And if the folks on the front-lines of customer service don’t, then their supervisors should.

She could file a formal complaint with the airport, through any of several channels, including its website or Twitter. The airport might be able to help her get a refund for the confiscated cognac.

Which one would you choose — and why?

A majority (69 percent) said appeal to British Airways.

That is exactly what we did. I sent a note to British Airways (it didn’t respond). Romano forwarded her complaint to the airline’s chief executive, Willie Walsh.

I explained the situation and attached copies of all the receipts and I received a reply (from his assistant of course) saying that they apologize and they would send me a check to reimburse me for the Remy

And they did – whooo-hoooo!!!!

As you know – not the money. Just a tiny victory even being acknowledged. Lesson here – keep all receipts and write to the top.

Yes, indeed. I also heard from Heathrow after this story posted.

I am very sorry if this passenger found our staff to be rude or unhelpful. The officers involved should have explained the process carefully and called a manager who would have given their name.

If a passenger connecting through Heathrow is carrying an item that is prohibited in cabin baggage they can choose to leave it at security, or, subject to authority by the UK Border Agency, pass through to arrivals and check it in as hold baggage. Unfortunately we do not provide written confirmation when passengers opt to leave items at security.

Please be assured that all restricted items are securely collected by our recycling and waste management supplier. Our own security teams do not directly handle these items during the collection process and our staff and security areas are closely monitored at all times.

Heathrow has contacted Romano directly to apologize for the incident.

Thanks to everyone for helping resolve this case.

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