The circumstances of Michelle Melcher’s claim are common, but the sum of her claim isn’t. She — or, more precisely, her client — wants $20,000 after returning from an Apple Vacation. “What should we do about this $20,000 claim against Apple Vacations?”
Noah Markewich’s lost-luggage case had “lost cause” written all over it 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.
“Three years later, Alitalia still owes me $528 for my lost baggage and ruined Italian vacation”
Deric Voelker and his fiancee recently flew from Chicago to Las Vegas recently on Southwest Airlines. The airline lost one of their bags, so they filed a claim, expecting to be compensated. They weren’t.
Their story is cautionary tale about the importance of paperwork in an almost paperless world of e-tickets, e-mail and in-flight Wi-Fi.
Voelker’s fiancee, Sophia Prochazka, checked her bag the way you normally would. “A tag was printed and placed on the bag,” he recalls. “It was a direct flight, we checked in in plenty of time flying under the same reservation, and I claimed my bag in Chicago.”
Once they discovered her missing bag, a Southwest employee assured them they’d find it. After all, it was a direct flight. They filed a claim and waited.
For the five days that we were in the Midwest, we called Southwest every day. They never found the bag, but the people that we talked to gave us every indication that she would be reimbursed “something” for her expenses/lost bag. When we returned to Las Vegas, the phone calls went on for another couple of days and then it was requested that she write a letter, and then fill out some forms. We patiently waited, because Southwest said the trace on her bag takes 30 days. Last week, over two months later, we received a letter denying our claim.
Why had Southwest turned them down?
At this time, we have completed a careful review of your claim documentation and the information in your lost luggage report. Since our liability for a baggage claim is determined by the terms and conditions of our Contract of Carriage we do not arbitrarily pay every claim that is submitted. The baggage claim check serves a critical dual purpose in the claim process, as it is the Customer’s receipt for tendering luggage and is also evidence of the airline’s liability for it. Unfortunately, because of the absence of a Southwest Airlines baggage claim stub we are unable to take action on your claim.
Translation: You lost your claim check. You’re out of luck.
I recommended Voelker contact Southwest again to appeal its decision. He did, and it repeated its denial, despite a polite petition to a manager.
Lesson learned: Keep the receipt for your luggage, even if your airline goes through all of the motions when you check in.
I think Southwest could have done better. If nothing else, one of its employees should have told Voelker and Prochazka that they shouldn’t even bother filling out a lost luggage claim.
Because without a receipt, their bag never officially existed.
Here’s an important footnote to the airline industry’s year from hell. A closer look at the Transportation Department’s 2007 report card shows some carriers were likelier to lose your luggage, deny you boarding, get you to your destination late and provoke a written complaint. And some airlines were above it all.
Here’s a birds-eye view of the DOT’s report, by category. I’ve broken it down into in an easy-to-understand blog posting so that you can sort the winners from the sinners and make a more informed booking decision.
Which airline is likeliest to lose my luggage?
No surprises here. The Hawaiian carriers outperformed everyone else. Low fare carriers did better than legacy airlines. And regional carriers continued their underperforming streak.
Mishandled baggage (reports per 1,000 passengers)
1. Hawaiian Airlines (3.41)
2. Aloha Airlines (3.88)
3. AirTran Airways (4.06)
4. Northwest Airlines (5.01)
5. JetBlue Airways (5.23)
1. American Eagle (13.55)
2. Comair (11.40)
3. Atlantic Southeast (11.24)
4. Skywest (10.87)
5. Mesa Airlines (10.46)
The industry average for mishandled baggage was 7.03, compared with 6.73 in 2006. Two years ago, the top performer was Hawaiian (3.14) and the airline with the worst record was Atlantic Southeast (17.37).
Which airline will oversell its flight and bump me?
Among the best performers, there were no surprises except one: United Airlines. Legacy carriers routinely overbook their flights and then deny passengers boarding. But United seems to have gotten its act together. Delta, on the other hand, does not. It joined the bottom-feeding regional carriers.
Involuntary denied boardings per 10,000 passengers.
1. JetBlue Airways (.02)
2. AirTran Airways (.15)
3. Hawaiian Airlines (.17)
4. Aloha (.29)
5. United (.71)
1. Atlantic Southeast (4.50)
2. Comair (3.15)
3. Delta Air Lines (2.47)
4. Skywest (1.69)
5. Mesa Airlines (1.54)
The industry average last year was 1.12 involuntary denied boardings per 10,000 passengers, compared with 1 in 2006. JetBlue was the best performer in 2006, with .07 involuntary denied boardings, and Atlantic Southeast lost in the category, with 4.47 IDBs per 10k passengers.
Which airline am I most likely to complain about?
The legacy airlines were clear winners – I mean, losers – in the complaints category. If you were flying internationally, British Airways led by a wide margin.
1. US Airways (1,828)
2. American Airlines (1,617)
3. United Airlines (1,540)
4. Delta Air Lines (1,325)
5. Northwest Airlines (768)
1. British Airways (285)
2. Alitalia (173)
3. Air France (152)
4. Lufthansa (84)
5. Iberia (72)
Which online agencies am I most likely to complain about?
This is a relatively new category for the DOT report card. I would expect next year’s numbers to be higher, now that passengers are aware they can gripe about their online travel agency, too.
1. Orbitz (45)
2. Travelocity (35)
3. Expedia (30)
4. Cheaptickets (22)
5. Cheapoair/Priceline (tie) (16)
Which airline runs on time?
Again, the Hawaiian carriers and low-fare airlines dominated, with a surprise appearance by Delta. Rounding out the bottom are two legacy carriers and the usual suspects — regional carriers.
Overall percentage of reported flight operations arriving on time
1. Hawaiian (93.3)
2. Aloha (92.2)
3. Southwest (80.1)
4. Frontier (77.6)
5. Delta (76.9)
1. Atlantic Southeast (64.7)
2. Comair (67.9)
3. US Airways (68.7)
4. American (68.7)
5. American Eagle (69.1)
The industry average for 2007 was 73.4 percent, well below the historical average (over the last 20 years) of 78.3 percent.
What to make of these numbers?
If you want a quality flying experience in the lower 48, go for a low-fare carrier. If you’re into pain, try a legacy carrier or better yet, a regional airline.