ITA Airways lost luggage problem: Why won’t it cover my expenses?

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By Christopher Elliott

Jacqueline Bartolini has a lost luggage problem with ITA. She’s spent $992 to buy clothes, but the airline will only reimburse her for just $733. Who’s right? 

Question

I recently flew from Rome to Palermo, Italy, on ITA Airways. Unfortunately, my luggage did not. 

I filed a claim immediately at the Palermo airport. I didn’t receive my luggage until the end of my trip, a week later. 

Since my luggage was missing the entire trip, I had to make purchases, including luggage.   My coat was in my suitcase. Thank God another woman on my tour lent me her coat. The weather was cold, with heavy rain.

So many things I needed were difficult to purchase because we returned from tours late in the day. I think I did a good job of keeping my cost of purchases to a minimum. But I still spent $992. I have copies of my receipts.

ITA Airways wants to reimburse me $733. I’d like to be fully reimbursed. Can you help me? — Jacqueline Bartolini, Bradenton, Fla.

Answer

ITA Airways is liable for the entire $992.

Under the Montreal convention, if an airline loses, damages or delays your checked luggage, you’re entitled to compensation up to an amount of about $1,400. (But if there’s damage caused by an “inherent” defect in the baggage, then not.)

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Bottom line: If you can prove that you purchased these items while you were waiting for your luggage, ITA Airways should cover them.

Unfortunately, airlines don’t always pay what they’re supposed to. They may scrutinize your list of items and say, “We don’t think you really needed that.” Looking at your list, I can see a few items that might have raised eyebrows, including $85 in cosmetics, a $6 mirror and a pair of shoes for $172. However, you were careful to document each purchase and noted the reasons for buying each item.

I think ITA Airways needed to tell you why it wouldn’t cover certain items. But I don’t see anywhere in your correspondence with the airline that it justified its decision to not reimburse you.

What are your rights when an airline loses your luggage?

When an airline misplaces your bags, it can’t just leave you standing at the airport without a change of clothes and toiletries.

What your airline owes you

Airlines are usually required to reimburse you for essential items you need to purchase while your bag is lost. That includes a change of clothes, medications and toiletries. Sometimes, an airline will give you cash to cover a misplaced item (I’ve seen it). But usually, you will need to file a claim later if you have a lost luggage problem. Pro tip: Keep your receipts. You’ll need them to file a claim. (Related: If luggage fees are wrong, who pays?)

Don’t go on a shopping spree

As I’ve already noted, there are limits under both the Montreal Convention and possibly your airline contract of carriage (the legal agreement between you and the airline) and airline policy. Be sure to check the fine print on your ticket and ask the airline for any limits before you go on a shopping spree.

Keep everything in writing

It’s not just receipts. Document any communication with your airline regarding your claim, especially a promise of reimbursement. (Those are quickly forgotten when made in person or by phone.) Remember, talk is cheap. (Related: Yo, mind your luggage manners!)

Above all, you should be reasonable when asking for clothes or toiletries. I’ve seen readers who have tried to buy designer clothes and pricey makeup after an airline lost their checked bag. Airlines have a lot of discretion when it comes to what they will and won’t cover. And I’ve seen them turn down requests to cover expensive items.

How to avoid a lost luggage problem on ITA Airways

You might have avoided these problems by traveling light and carrying your luggage on the plane. I know that sounds unreasonable, but take it from someone who lives out of his luggage — it’s doable.

I know very experienced travelers who never check their luggage. They buy any toiletries they need at their destination if it exceeds 3.4 ounces, like a large tube of toothpaste or a bottle of shampoo. (I have all my liquids in 3.4-ounce, airplane-safe containers.)

You could have appealed this to an executive at ITA Airways. I publish the names, numbers and email addresses of the ITA Airways executives on this site. (Here’s the ultimate guide to finding your lost luggage.)

Given that ITA Airways didn’t really explain why it shorted you $259, I thought it was worth asking. So I did. After you reached out to my consumer advocacy team, we checked with ITA Airways. At first, the airline said it couldn’t refund you because it didn’t have documentation for some of the items. But it did have them — and you showed them the receipts again. (Related: Help! WOW lost my luggage — and my claim.)

Finally, 10 months after you lost your luggage, ITA Airways sent us the following statement: “ITA Airways apologizes for the disruption and confirms that the customer will receive a refund for the expenses related to the purchase of items which occurred due to this inconvenience.”

Then it sent you a check — for $733.

I contacted ITA again and asked it to cover the rest of your expenses, as agreed. And it finally did.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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