Airberlin lost my luggage and offered a voucher instead of reimbursing me

When Lawrence Kessler’s luggage is diverted to Vienna, he buys $48 worth of new clothes — a modest amount by European standards. Now his airline, Airberlin, refuses to cover those costs. Can it do that?

Question: I recently flew from Boston to Milan on Airberlin. My luggage went to Vienna, instead. I finally got my luggage three days later, but for one-third of the trip, I had no clean clothing.

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I reported the lost luggage in Milan at the counter. They told me that Airberlin had no “official” policy on reimbursing passengers who lost luggage, but I should save my receipts and request reimbursement.

I kept my spending to a bare minimum. When I returned home I filed the report with Air Berlin with receipts and requested a refund of $48.

Air Berlin said they would only give me a voucher for a future flight of 43 euros. This just seems unfair to me. Frankly I am not sure I would ever fly Air Berlin again, but my question to you is: Are airlines simply able to dismiss lost luggage claims by passengers or are they obligated to reimburse reasonable expenses? — Lawrence Kessler, Dedham, Mass.

Answer: I find it difficult to believe that Airberlin doesn’t have an “official” policy on misplaced luggage.

Airlines have internal guidelines for their airport employees that allow them to disburse some money at the airport for emergency purchases, as the Department of Transportation notes.

The amount depends on whether or not you’re away from home and how long it takes to track down your bags and return them to you. If the airline does not provide you a cash advance, it may still reimburse you later for the purchase of necessities.

The DOT advises that you keep all receipts when you go shopping.

I’ve personally seen airline agents pay passengers in cash for their incidentals. Not vouchers — cash.

You were really careful with your spending, and Airberlin should have been appreciative of that. Instead, it offered you funny money. What an insult.

You might have prevented this by paying close attention to the luggage tags (and I stress the “might” here). Vienna’s airport code is VIE; Milan’s is MXP. I always double-check the tags before they’re sent down the conveyor belt. Mistakes do happen. Tags get confused. Don’t let it happen to your checked luggage.

Airberlin’s customer service plan is a little wishy-washy, when it comes to mishandled baggage.

Delivery of Baggage
In the event that checked baggage does not arrive with the passenger traveling to or from the U.S., Air Berlin will make every reasonable effort to return the baggage within 24 hours and compensate any reasonable expenses that result from delay in delivery, subject to the liability limitations provided under the Montreal Convention. In the event that baggage is lost or destroyed, Air Berlin will reimburse any baggage fees charged for the transportation of that baggage.

Something tells me Airberlin’s policy is: Offer as little as possible and pay with worthless airline scrip. I hope I’m wrong about that.

Our team contacted Airberlin on your behalf. It didn’t immediately respond, so you took your complaint to the DOT. Airberlin reimbursed your $48.

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