Lost luggage is one of the main reasons that passengers complain. Recently, the BBC questioned Why do airlines still mislay 25 million bags a year? But, what isn’t too widely known is that if luggage arrives late, damaged or seems to have been lost, you could be entitled to damages.
The Montreal Convention 1999 outlines international rules for the “carriage of passengers, luggage and cargo”, and is crucial for passenger rights as it states that liability is with the airlines in cases of mishandled luggage.
I actually found myself caught up in this very situation back in May. I had arrived in Tel Aviv, Israel, and it quickly transpired that my luggage had been left behind in Zurich. As a result, I spent £120.48 on toiletries and a change of clothes for my family, as we were told that the luggage may not arrive for a further 2 days. I then spent a further £91.48 on a return taxi journey to the airport when finally collecting the luggage.
As a lawyer, I was aware of my rights under The Montreal Convention 1999, so I wrote to Swiss Air. After an initial disagreement, which was due to Swiss Air offering to reimburse only 50% of the cost of the clothes, an agreement was finally reached, and I received the total amount I’d spent during the wait for my belongings. If I hadn’t been aware of these rights, and many still aren’t, I would have walked away with 50% less than what I was entitled to by law.
If you find yourself without your luggage, hopefully my experience will encourage you to know your rights and seek damages under The Montreal Convention.
Passengers Are Covered By The Montreal Convention
Perhaps the most important tip is to know that if your luggage has been lost, damaged or delayed at the fault of your airline you can seek reimbursement for the costs under The Montreal Convention 1999.
The Convention also outlines the deadlines that travellers and firms must abide by, setting rules for the 130+ countries that agreed its terms.
Below are a few tips which could help increase your chances of reclaiming your luggage and being awarded your rightful compensation.
1. Most “lost” bags are simply delayed; it’s likely that your luggage was left behind and will be sent on a later flight. Ask for a Property Irregularity Report (PIR) form, which is used by airline staff to note the details – it makes the claiming process easier. State the address of the accommodation you’ll be staying in on the PIR form for the safe arrival of your belongings. It’s crucial to act fast – as soon as you think you’re unlikely to receive your luggage, inform the airline.
2. If the luggage is definitely lost, you can contact the airline requesting damages under The Montreal Convention. State your flight number, date of travel, how much money you are requesting, a thorough list of everything that is lost, and items you had to buy due to your delay. Keep proof of acknowledgement and any correspondence.
3. Be aware of key time constraints: twenty-one days after travelling is when luggage is deemed “irretrievably lost”. According to Citizens Advice, deadlines for reporting any issues are: 7 days after receiving your damaged luggage/luggage with missing or damaged content, 21 days after the flight for delayed or missing luggage, and as soon as possible for lost luggage.
4. Document any proof you have of your flight and missing/delayed/damaged luggage. If your property has been damaged, such as being torn, take photographs. Keep your boarding card, luggage labels and receipts for anything purchased from around this time.
Where Does The Lost Luggage Actually Go?
If baggage has not been reclaimed after 90 days, the airport is permitted to dispose of its lost property. It may be auctioned off for charity; Manchester, Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton Stansted and Glasgow Airports all choose to sell unclaimed luggage.
What Damages Am I Likely To Receive?
The Civil Aviation Authority states that the airline will often pay for just the bare essentials, e.g. toiletries, but if you have just disembarked an inbound flight, your situation is not viewed as urgently, as you had clothes and other essentials available.
It also varies on the airline; most are unlikely to pay out for the cost of valuable or breakable items, so it’s advised to place these items in hand luggage.
If I hadn’t have known my rights when I was stranded in Tel Aviv without my luggage, I would have lost out financially due to circumstances that weren’t my fault. Knowing that you can claim for lost, damaged and delayed luggage at the fault of the airline is half the battle
The most an airline can pay out is 1,131 “Special Drawing Rights” (Approximately £1,200), but being reimbursed this much is rare. If you believe your contents are worth more, prior to flying you can raise the liability limit with a “special declaration of interest” at check in to a maximum of 2,262 Special Drawing Rights.
If you aren’t satisfied with the amount in compensation offered, take further action by checking if you can claim through your travel insurance – but your first course of action should always be approaching the airline.
How Can I Minimise The Chance Of This Happening Again?
One of the simplest steps you can take is to photograph your luggage before you check it in – this is a lot more effective than to describe it as “black with a blue stripe” further down the line!
The electronic tag placed on your luggage is responsible for monitoring its locations. Problems with locating bags can arise if a staff member inputs a faulty or incorrect code when checking it in, so clearly label the inside of your bag with your name, address and email address.
It’s Not All Doom And Gloom
Let’s end on a positive note: as of June 2018, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has required its member airlines to keep a reliable inventory of baggage by monitoring the acquisition and delivery of baggage.
Five out of six flights all across the world are operated by IATA members, so this should come as reassuring news for passengers.
The Montreal Convention is key in the areas of flight delay compensation and passenger rights, and surely something that more passengers should know about.