Injured on a flight? Don’t forget to file a report

“Please be careful when opening the overhead bins, as items may have shifted during flight.” If you’re a frequent traveler like me, you’ve heard that phrase so many times that you could give the instructions yourself.

But what happens when a flight attendant fails to heed that warning? Sin Nga Ho found out on a recent flight, and she asked us to help her get compensation for her injuries.

Ho was traveling on a Swiss International Air Lines flight between London and Zurich when a flight attendant opened the overhead bin directly above her seat, and a heavy bag fell on her head. Upon landing in Zurich, she informed the flight attendant who had opened the bin that she was injured and needed to see a doctor.

The flight attendant told her that the terminal clinic was closed and she would have to go to the hospital outside the airport by herself. According to Ho, he also told her that she would probably miss her flight to Hong Kong if she chose to go to the hospital. He gave her the email address of the customer service team and instructed her to contact them.

Ho says she felt like he didn’t want to help her, and she didn’t want to miss her flight to Hong Kong, so she didn’t go to the hospital. She says she visited a doctor in Hong Kong, she kept the receipts for the visit and the medicine she received, and she emailed customer service.

She received two emails from Swiss that indicated it had “a high volume of requests” and a response would be delayed. After eight weeks with no substantive response, she contacted us. Ho asked us to help her recover $5,000 from Swiss.

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Our advocate asked Ho for a copy of an incident report from the airport or the airline, but she hadn’t filed one with either because her transit time in Zurich was only two hours and it didn’t seem like enough time to file any reports. But she also told us that she was “sure the airline people know this incident because they had a staff [member] walked me to the gate which my next flight back to Hong Kong.”

We’re not sure how Ho came up with the $5,000 figure she thinks Swiss should pay her, but it seems like a random number she picked. It’s possible that there are receipts and reports documenting that she has suffered financial losses amounting to that number but they were never provided to us.

This case reminded us of two other recent incidents where a passenger claimed an in-flight injury. Those could have been valid if procedures had been followed, reports had been filed, receipts had been submitted, and if the consumers hadn’t demanded unsubstantiated amounts of money. In the first case, a passenger suffered a “near-fatal” curtain rod injury, and in the second case a flight attendant hit a passenger’s knee with the beverage cart.

In Ho’s case, unfortunately, without any report that documents the incident, there isn’t much we can do since we have only her word that the flight attendant aboard that flight was responsible for the injury that was treated sometime afterward. Ho could appeal to the contacts we list for Swiss International Air Lines, but we can’t help her.

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If you’re ever injured in flight, it’s not only important to be certain a report is filed with the airline to protect yourself financially; it’s also imperative to ensure your injuries are not serious or life-threatening. If you purchased travel insurance, this is also the best time to contact the company, as there may be coverage available if you have to delay or cancel your travels.

Michelle Bell

Michelle worked in the travel and hospitality industry for almost two decades. Born in Germany, she has lived in 15 states and two foreign countries, and traveled to more than 35 countries. After living and working in Southeast Asia for several years, she now resides in New Orleans. Read more of Michelle Bell's articles here.

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