Five months later, why hasn’t American Airlines paid for my lost suitcase?

American Airlines lost Tom Leadbitter’s suitcase. Five months ago, the airline agreed to issue Leadbitter a partial reimbursement. He’s still waiting.

Question: American Airlines misplaced my bag on a flight from Beijing to Dallas. The airline told me to buy what I needed until the bag was returned. But that ended up taking almost three weeks.

I only bought what I needed, when I needed it and shopped around for reasonably priced items. As we were on vacation and traveling around the U.S., I was forced to purchase a new suitcase also.

I submitted a claim for $1,400. That was five months ago and I still have not been reimbursed. Can you help me get the money American Airlines owes me? — Tom Leadbitter, Dalian, China

Answer: What a way to begin a vacation. Not only did you not have your bag and belongings, you had no way to know when they would be returned to you, forcing you to continually spend vacation time shopping for replacements. For American Airlines to make you wait five months for reimbursement (and only a partial one at that) seems to illustrate a lack of commitment to good customer service on their part.

Part of the problem is the vague wording on American Airlines’ conditions of carriage — the legal agreement between you and the cairrer — as to what their responsibility actually is for delayed baggage:

American’s liability for loss, damage or delayed delivery of checked baggage, including transfer baggage, is limited to the actual value of the baggage or $3,500, whichever is less, unless the passenger declares a higher value for loss of baggage, not to exceed $5,000.00 including the $3,500 standard liability per passenger and pays American a sum of $5.00 per $100.00 (or any portion thereof) of excess value. Excess valuation coverage is not available for and does not apply to items excluded in our liability below.

American does not assume liability for any of the following items in or as checked baggage: antiques, artifacts, artwork, books and documents, china, computers and other electronic equipment, computer software, fragile items (including child/infant restraint devices such as strollers and car seats), eyeglasses, prescription sunglasses, non-prescription sunglasses and all other eyewear and eye/vision devices whether lenses are glass, plastic, or some other material, furs, heirlooms, keys, liquids, medicines, money, orthotics, surgical supports, perishable items, photographic, video and optical equipment, precious metals, stones or jewelry, securities and negotiable papers, silverware, samples, unique or irreplaceable items or any other similar valuable items.

Your claim falls within their $3,500 cap, so that doesn’t explain why they will only pay a portion rather than the entire amount.

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It may be their view that you got your suitcase back so they have no liability there. It’s interesting that while they are strict about how promptly a passenger must file a claim, there is no mention about how long they may take to pay. Still, five months strikes us as completely unreasonable.

After our advocates contacted American on your behalf, you told us that they had finally paid you $1,100 and that you had decided not to pursue the issue further.

We’re happy you consider the matter resolved, but we still think American Airlines should have done the right thing and reimbursed you for the bag that you had to buy because of their problem.

Abe Wischnia

Abe started his working career as a television news reporter and newscaster before moving to corporate communications and investor relations. Now retired and having learned useful tips from Elliott.org, one of his volunteer activities is writing for us. Read more of Abe's stories here.

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