If you’re in Zone 5, here’s why you should pack light

Africa Studio/Shutterstock
Africa Studio/Shutterstock
Next time you find yourself with a boarding pass that says Zone 5 or Group “C,” or whatever designation your airline uses to say you’re the last to board, please remember this story.

It comes to us by way of Kathleen Colduvell and her boyfriend, David Dimm. A few weeks ago, they were flying from Philadelphia to Tampa on US Airways.

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“We were only going for the weekend, so we each had one cabin-approved carry on,” says Colduvell.

Alas, halfway through the boarding process, a gate agent announced that the overhead bins were completely full. By the way, there’s a good reason for that: Passengers carry more onboard now in an effort to avoid the $25 fee for the first checked bag. Also, they don’t want the airline to lose their luggage.

“The attendant at the gate quickly went around and tagged all the bags while the other attendant scanned tickets and then gave us little paper handwritten luggage receipts,” she remembers.

And that’s when it happened.

As we were getting medicine and cameras out of our carry-ons, the attendants went around again and grabbed all of the carry-on bags and took them down the runway to have them loaded on the plane.

We told the attendant that we needed to get things out of bags, but he didn’t care. At this point he was already down the runway and out of sight. I tried to go after him but was stopped because my ticket had not been scanned at the gate.

Another US Airways forcibly gate-checking luggage story? Oh no.

Here’s what happened next:

When we arrived in Tampa we got our bags at the baggage terminal and my boyfriend noticed that his cell phone charger and camera were not in his bag.

He could not contact US Airways because his cell phone battery was dead and his charger was missing.

When we got back to Philadelphia, he went about contacting US Airways and filing the paperwork needed to attempt to have his camera and cell phone charger replaced. He called them several times, but was either disconnected, hung up on, or they told him to fill out the paperwork online.

They denied his request for compensation because he was told that electronics were not covered and they were not held responsible.

This last-minute scramble experienced by Colduvell and her boyfriend isn’t unusual. We had the same issue on a recent US Airways flight from Orlando to Phoenix. In our case, we made a terrible mistake, allowing our passports to be checked in luggage that was tagged for Edmonton, Canada.

Fortunately, US Airways found the luggage in Phoenix, retrieved the passports, and we were able to cross the border.

So I believe Colduvell when she says she felt rushed. But based on her account, I think she may have surrendered her luggage before realizing that a charger and phone may have been left in one of the bags.

I asked US Airways to review Colduvell’s claim and its denial, and in revisiting the case with her and her boyfriend, it turns out that they didn’t fill out the paperwork immediately because they thought it was possible that they’d left their cell phone and charger at home.

They didn’t. Someone took the cell phone out of their checked luggage.

US Airways, like all major domestic carriers, doesn’t accept liability for electronics in checked bags. It also requires all claims for lost or pilfered luggage be made within 24 hours of a flight.

I’ve seen airlines bend the rule for electronics, but only when a bag is forcibly gate-checked. If you wait more than a day to file a claim, it can be really difficult to make any headway.

Here’s how US Airways responded:

As you have noted, our policies require that claims for lost items are made within 24 hours of arrival. This policy is designed to reduce fraud and speed resolutions for our customers.

Also, as you noted, electronics, jewelry and other valuables are not covered by our policy. All customers have the ability to remove these items before bags are checked. I realize in the press to board at the end, this process can be hurried.

Having said all that, we stand by the denial of the claim and apologize for the inconvenience. I know this isn’t the answer you wanted, but it is consistent with other claims and we don’t see a reason to make an exception in your case.

I’m not happy about moving this into the “case dismissed” file, and I might not have had to if a claim had been made quickly. I guess the takeaway is: If you’re in Zone 5, pack light.

Should US Airways have turned down Kathleen Colduvell and David Dimm's claim?

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