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29/04/2009 – The Airline Contract of Carriage & Baggage Policies : Are You Covered?
It is a common story, one I am e-mailed about almost weekly and often read about online more than once weekly. What is this common story? That an airline has damaged a camera, a lens, a hard drive, video game console or even a laptop that was placed inside checked baggage and now the airline won’t pay for the items repair or replacement.
The reality of flying is that baggage not only gets tossed, thrown, bumped, banged, dropped and stacked, but it is also unfortunately potentially subject to pilferage.
At many airports you hand your baggage to an airline representative, that representative sends the bag along where it will be screened by the TSA, followed by possibly an independent ‘ground services’ company, then back to the airline either at the aircraft for loading or at the destination. The number of times a bag changes hands is somewhat frequent, often without the benefit of security cameras and has the potential to be damaged to stolen from.
Due to the significant liability potential airlines simply do not accept liability for the loss or theft of certain items. When you check your baggage you need to understand the ‘Baggage Liability’ section of an airline’s Contract of Carriage.
As an example, I have pulled out the ‘Baggage Liability’ section of Midwest Airlines’ Travel Policies.
Midwest’s baggage liability is limited to $3,300 per fare-paying passenger domestically. Liability does not cover fragile or perishable articles, medication, money, jewelry, electronic/video/photographic equipment or other valuables listed in the Contract of Carriage. Midwest does not assume liability for normal wear and tear, damage to or loss of baggage parts such as wheels, feet, straps, pockets, retractable handles, hanger hooks, or other items attached to the baggage. Notice of missing or damaged baggage must be reported within four hours of flight arrival; pilfered baggage within 48 hours of flight arrival.
Notice that the baggage liability very clearly states the maximum amount of financial compensation that will be paid to any passenger. This means that if you have one bag or three bags the maximum compensation would be US$3,300.
If you should find items from your baggage that damaged or pilfered (and are not excluded items), or your bag goes missing, you will need to prove that the items were not only in the baggage but also provide receipts for the missing items.
Having an airline admit damage to items in a bag is very difficult. An airline can always argue that items were either no properly packed or that they were simply not covered, as stated in the Contract of Carriage.
The rules for baggage liability have been known to have some flexibility for bags that are ‘force checked’ at the gate as well as those that are ‘valet checked’ or ‘stair checked’ on regional flights, but not very often. As airlines are fighting off fiercer financial problems the stricter they are becoming about everything, including loss or damage to baggage.
Airlines can stay rigid on baggage regulations, as every passenger has access to the Contract of Carriage. Almost every airline’s ticket jacket has a Contract of Carriage and often when you print your boarding pass at home the fine print says that you accept the Contract of Carriage. Simply if something happens, it is not the airline’s fault that the passenger did not stop and read the Contract of Carriage.
When you fly you must account for things potentially being out of your control. This planning includes packing in such a way that your essential equipment is always with you. If everything goes wrong, your basics are in your possession no matter what. You must also consider always having insurance on your equipment, fighting with an airline is a no-win situation 99% of the time when it comes to getting paid back for anything stolen, or the damage to anything clearly stated as ‘not covered’ in the Contract of Carriage.
Pack smart, plan wisely, use common sense and if you get a moment, read of a copy of your airline’s contract of carriage (each airline’s is slightly different).