Sunday, April 17, 2011

Places to Go, but Not All Dressed Up - New Delayed Baggage Rule

Did you hear this one?

Airline passengers in Europe actually mutinied over hidden baggage fees by low cost carrier ("LCC") Ryanair for checked baggage fees.  This, after a court in Spain ruled that it was illegal for the airline to charge passengers for arriving at the airport without a boarding pass.

Well, here in America, passengers also are fed up with baggage fees -- fees that account for almost $3.3 billion in extra revenue for the airline industry.  Well, the Obama Administration apparently is eager to address the issue.  This time, the issue isn't lost  baggage, but delayed baggage.

Specifically, the U.S. Department of Transportation ("DOT") currently is proposing regulations that require airlines to give a cash refund for delayed luggage.   The new DOT rule would require airlines to refund the fee if a bag is lost or not delivered in a “timely” manner. Perhaps that means delivery is not made within two hours of arrival.  This is all part of a proposed package of passengers' rights regulations.

Until any new set of rules is passed, the DOT offers this guidance:

If you and your suitcase don't connect at your destination, don't panic. The airlines have very sophisticated systems that track down the vast majority of misplaced bags and return them to their owners within hours. In many cases they will absorb reasonable expenses you incur while they look for your missing belongings. You and the airline may have different ideas of what's reasonable, however, and the amount it will pay is subject to negotiation.

If your bags don't come off the conveyor belt, report this to airline personnel before you leave the airport. Insist that they create a report and give you a copy, even if they say the bag will be in on the next flight. Get an appropriate phone number for following up (not the Reservations number). Don't assume that the airline will deliver the bag without charge when it is found; ask the airline about this. Most carriers set guidelines for their airport employees that allow them to disburse some money at the airport for emergency purchases. The amount depends on whether or not you're away from home and how long it takes to track down your bags and return them to you. If the airline does not provide you a cash advance, it may still reimburse you later for the purchase of necessities. 

Discuss with the carrier the types of articles that would be reimbursable, and keep all receipts. If the airline misplaces sporting equipment, it will sometimes pay for the rental of replacements. 

For replacement clothing or other articles, the carrier might offer to absorb only a portion of the purchase cost, on the basis that you will be able to use the new items in the future. (The airline may agree to a higher reimbursement if you turn the articles over to them.

When you've checked in fresh foods or any other perishable goods and they are ruined because their delivery is delayed, the airline won't reimburse you. Carriers may be liable if they lose or damage perishable items, but they won't accept responsibility for spoilage caused by a delay in delivery.

Airlines are liable for provable consequential damages up to the amount of their liability limit (see below) in connection with the delay. If you can't resolve the claim with the airline's airport staff, keep a record of the names of the employees with whom you dealt, and hold on to all travel documents and receipts for any money you spent in connection with the mishandling. (It's okay to surrender your baggage claim tags to the airline when you fill out a form at the airport, as long as you get a copy of the form and it notes that you gave up the tags.) Contact the airline's baggage claims office or consumer office when you get home.

All of this invites different opinions,  of course.  For example, the airline industry generally opposes laws and regulations that would inject Congress and administrators into the marketplace.  This argument merits attention.  Courts often are places of last resort.  The ticket counter really is where many customer service issues such as lost baggage should be resolved.

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