On a daily basis someone is complaining that an airline has damaged an item in their checked baggage or that something from their checked baggage was pilfered. These incidents, while barely a statistical blip on the radar compared to all checked baggage, frequently take center stage in public conversation of the airline industry.
A regular argument from the traveling public is that if an airline accepts a checked bag is should be responsible for the contents of the baggage, for both damage and theft, despite every airline’s Contract of Carriage detailing an extensive list of items that are not to be checked in baggage, even if excess valuation baggage insurance is purchased, and that the airline will not accept the liability for damage and theft of baggage contents. While people want the airlines to take responsibility the reality is that they cannot.
Why can’t an airline assure passengers that the contents of their bags will arrive undamaged and unpilfered? Let’s find out … first off, an airline cannot inspect each checked bag to ensure it’s packed properly & securely. Typically checked baggage goes on a conveyor belt, down a chute to a baggage sort conveyor belt system at speeds of more than 20mph, the bags are then placed on baggage tractors, placed on a baggage belt loader and stacked into a plane (or into an LD container), then the bags go flying … often encountering turbulence where they get bounced around … before being unloaded in the reverse order in which they are loaded.
An airline cannot be responsible for damage that is incurred since many damaged items are improperly packed. I know people always think they pack properly, but very often they do not, especially in with fragile items and soft-sided baggage.
Secondly, when it comes to checked baggage theft, the airline a passenger checks their bag in with loses custody of the bag moments after the bag is checked in. In some airports the bag is immediately handed off to the third party company to deliver the bags to an aviation security agency responsible for baggage screening (such as the Transportation Security Agency, aka: TSA, in the United States), in other airports the checked baggage is directly handed off to the security agency responsible for baggage screening. Once checked baggage has been screened it may end up back in the custody of the airline or in the hands of a third-party ground handling company responsible for an airline’s ground services.
If checked baggage needs to make a connection, it possibly passes through the hands of another third-party ground handling company, if a connection involves a change of airline the custody of the checked bag is no longer in the control of the airline that accepted the bag, nor is the originating airline responsible for transporting or delivering the bag to its destination.
If a bag is flying internationally, the custody of the bag includes passing through areas controlled by customs agents, and possibly the third-party companies responsible for handling the baggage, before arriving at its final destination … bag in the hands of the airline passenger who originally checked it.
Given the number of parties responsible for the custody of a checked bag, how can any airline accept liability for theft when checked baggage cannot solely be secured by them while in transit?
So … before you complain that an airline you have handed your bag limits its liability for damage and theft, keep all of this in mind. If you ran a business with this many moving parts you’d limit your liability as well.