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Damaged, Delayed and Lost Luggage

What are your entitlements if your luggage fails to appear on the baggage carousel at the airport or if your bags do appear but are damaged in some way?  Consumer Choice considers the entitlements of air passengers in the event that their luggage is damaged, delayed or lost altogether and provides guidance on how to make a complaint.

Do I need travel insurance in order to be able to successfully make a claim for delayed, damaged or lost luggage?
Although travel insurance may cover such claims, air passengers also have rights under an international agreement known as the Montreal Convention.   Among other things, the Montreal Convention deals with airline companies’ liability in relation to lost, mislaid or damaged luggage.  With 110 countries signed up – from Albania to Zambia – the Montreal Convention applies extensively around the world and enables air passengers to claim compensation if their checked baggage is damaged or if it fails to arrive on time or at all.

Is the airline liable for my checked baggage?
Under the Montreal Convention, the airline is liable if your checked baggage is lost, delayed, damaged or destroyed, even if it is not at fault.   The exception to this is if the damage occurred due to an inherent defect or the poor quality of your baggage.  In addition, in terms of delayed baggage, the airline is liable unless it can prove that it took all reasonable measures to avoid the delay or that it was impossible to take such measures.

What about unchecked (or carry-on) baggage?
In the case of unchecked baggage, the airline is only liable if any damage is due to the fault of the airline or its staff.

How is financial compensation for lost, delayed or damaged baggage calculated?
An airline’s liability limits in the Montreal Convention are expressed in special drawing rights (SDRs).  The value of the SDR is calculated daily by the International Monetary Fund and is based on a basket of major currencies – the US dollar, euro, Japanese yen and pound sterling.    One SDR is currently worth about €1.28 (as of April 2015) and for any travel covered by the Montreal Convention, the airline’s liability for baggage is restricted to 1,131 SDRs (or currently around €1,447) per passenger.  However, the Convention does not offer guidelines on how to calculate the amount of compensation to be awarded in each individual case and air carriers differ in their approach to granting compensation, with passengers often required to prove the extent of their loss, including producing receipts for damaged or lost items.

What if the contents of my luggage are worth more than the airline’s liability limits?
If the contents of your luggage exceed the airline’s liability limits of 1,131 SDRs, you can benefit from a higher liability limit by paying a supplementary fee to make a “special declaration of interest” in the delivery of your baggage before checking it in.  Alternatively, you can consider carrying any valuables in hand luggage if feasible or taking out insurance that will provide adequate cover on the specific items.

What should I do if my luggage fails to arrive at the airport after I land?
If your luggage fails to appear on the baggage carousel, the first thing you need to do is to report your problem to the airline in the airport’s baggage reclaim area.  You should fill out a Property Irregularity Report (PIR), providing details of your bag – including colour, size, distinguishing features and so on.  Remember to keep a copy of the form for yourself as this will provide proof that you notified the airline of the problem as soon as it arose. The PIR is used to help trace your bag but it is not a complaint form or a request for compensation – these are separate issues that you will need to pursue yourself.  Although completing a PIR is not a legal requirement, it may make it easier to successfully make a claim to the airline if this becomes necessary.

Having obtained a copy of the PIR, ask for the contact details for the baggage department and enquire if the airline has a daily allowance policy for passengers whose baggage has been delayed.  You will also need to retain your boarding card and baggage tags and to keep receipts for any essential items you have to buy as a result of the delayed arrival of your bag.

What if my baggage arrives at the airport but it has been damaged?
You should examine your checked baggage on collection and, if it has been damaged in some way, again you should fill out a PIR at the airline desk in the airport baggage hall.   The PIR should outline the damage sustained and you will need to retain a copy of the PIR as well as your boarding card and baggage tags.  It is important that you report any damage immediately, as if you take receipt of your checked baggage without making a complaint, this constitutes prima facie evidence that the baggage has been delivered in good condition.

How long before my delayed baggage is deemed lost?
Unless the airline has previously admitted that it has lost it, your checked baggage will be considered lost if it has not been located 21 days after the date it was supposed to have arrived.

Are there any time limits on making baggage claims?
The Montreal Convention imposes certain time limits on making a claim for delayed, damaged or lost luggage and any claims will need to be made to the airline in writing within the specified timeframes.

  • For damaged baggage – you only have seven days from the date you received the luggage to make a written complaint to the airline.
  • For delayed baggage – a written complaint must be made within 21 days of the baggage arriving.
  • For lost baggage – you should submit a written complaint to the airline as soon as possible after your luggage has been missing for 21 days and is deemed lost.  Under the Montreal Convention, any claims must be brought within two years.

What documentation should I include when making a claim?
When a problem occurs with your checked baggage, it is important to keep your boarding card and baggage tags as well as booking confirmation and the completed PIR and to submit copies of all these in your written complaint to the airline.  You should also retain a copy of the letter you send to the airline.  In addition:

  • In the case of damaged baggage, you should also submit evidence of the damage – for example, photos of the damaged luggage and an estimate of repairs or confirmation from an independent source that the baggage is beyond repair, as well as receipts for items damaged or destroyed where possible.
  • For delayed baggage, as well as the above documentation, depending on the airline’s policy, you may need to keep any receipts for essential items – such as toiletries and clothing – that you needed to buy arising from the baggage delay and for which you may be reimbursed by the airline.  Alternatively, the airline may have a policy of providing a set daily allowance for each day the baggage is delayed.
  • For lost luggage, you will have to prove the extent of your loss up to 1,131 SDRs, so as well as the above-mentioned documentation, you should submit a list of contents and as many original receipts or other proofs of purchase – such as credit card statements – as possible for the items lost.

Do I have any other options?
You may be able to claim on your travel insurance instead, depending on whether lost luggage is covered under your policy, and this may yield a better settlement than you would receive from the airline.  However, you will need to check the terms and conditions and the excess charged and you will still need to submit proof of loss to substantiate your claim.   If you cannot successfully resolve your claim with the airline, you can discuss your situation with the European Consumer Centre Ireland, www.eccireland.ie, or you can consider pursuing the matter in the Small Claims Court.

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