What Are the Financial Obligations of Airlines For Lost Baggage?
It’s been awhile since I picked on the airlines but I can no longer resist. I just returned from a cruise to the southern Caribbean islands during spring break. The boat docked in San Juan, Puerto Rico where I was supposed to catch an American Airlines flight to Miami, and then change over to a flight bound for L.A. I should have known something would go awry when I entered the airport and the first thing I saw was a sign for “VIP’s and Pets.” Now, I love pets but to treat the passengers carrying them on board the same as VIP’s seems like a stretch. That is unless VIPs stands for “very important pets.” Predictably, there was virtually no one on that line, pets or otherwise, while the line for coach passengers was about 50 deep.
I checked in with American for my flight that wasn’t scheduled to leave for another three hours. The ticket agent took my baggage and told me the gate number. She also told me because of the fuel tank fire at Miami International a couple of days prior that damaged the pipelines, the plane would have to make an unscheduled stop in Tampa to refuel. One hour later the flight was canceled. I think American decided it would be more cost-effective to rebook passengers on other American flights than have to pay the steep price to truck fuel in for the airplanes or reroute planes. I went to the ticket agent and asked about my baggage that had already been tagged. American couldn’t find it. I was told I couldn’t get out of San Juan on a flight to Miami for two days. At this point American had exhausted my goodwill. I did consider barking like a dog to see if I could get VIP treatment.
Now, this is an ethics blog so where is the ethics angle? Diligence and carefulness in carrying out one's responsibilities are virtues. Incompetence fueled (sorry for the pun) my disgust. Why couldn’t American locate my baggage? Even if it was on the plane, the plane was going nowhere. By the way, the bags arrived in L.A. via Dallas (don’t ask) two days later. Actually I was hoping American would lose the bags. I’ve heard that the airlines do budget for lost bags. The federal government says passengers are eligible for $3,300 dollars per lost bag. That’s a lot of money for dirty laundry.
Did you know that the Department of Transportation says airlines mishandled or lost more than 2 million bags in 2010? That's about 5,500 bags a day. Jeanie Williamson and her husband lost their luggage during a vacation to New York in 2010.Williamson had to spend an extra $764.97 on clothes during her trip. Williamson estimated JetBlue owed her about $5,000 for her two bags. The airline offered $1,400, saying she didn't have receipts for every item and piece of clothing. What’s up with that?
The federal government does monitor lost baggage. The Department of Transportation slapped Delta with a $100,000 fine for a misleading baggage brochure about their reimbursement rights. You know the old saying -- a picture is worth a thousand words. This video aptly describes Delta's lost baggage policy.
Here’s my advice, before you fly inventory everything in your bag including your pet, and take pictures of your items. The pet pictures should be particularly funny. You may want to put an expensive hat on your pet to up the cost of items in your bag. You have about seven days to get a bag back, or it's considered lost. Good luck!
Blog by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, March 31, 2011
Video from YouTube