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Lost Luggage

Chapter 23 : Complaining To Airlines

They lose your luggage, bump you off flights, and get you there late. How do you do something about lost luggage and other airline problems? Here's a look at how to approach complaining to an airline when you really want results.

Act Fast

It is best to do something as soon as there is a problem. Talk to the highest level supervisor you can. If the person you are talking to doesn't have the authority to give you what you want, whether this is a refund, a new ticket, delivery of your lost luggage or whatever you think a fair resolution is, ask for someone else. Many employees who tell you "no" have no authority to say "yes," so you are wasting your time with them.

Know the Rules

Be sure that you have a valid complaint. I know of a case where an airline employee stole jewelry from a suitcase, but the customer had no claim. Luggage insurance does not generally cover small valuables, something that i said clearly on the luggage claim ticket. Read that fine print that you agreed to.

Send a Letter

If your problem was not resolved at the time, send a letter to the chairman of the airline. Send it by certified mail, return receipt requested, and send a copy to the Consumer Affairs Office of the Aviation Consumer Protection Division, C-75, U.S. Department of Transportation, 1200 New Jersey Avenue SE, Washington D.C. 20590. Of course, note in the original letter that a copy has been sent there.

Put all the details in your letter, as well as in any phone calls to the airline. Take notes and use them, so you won't forget any important points. Include dates, flight numbers, full names of any employees you spoke to, and all the facts of the case.

Be Nice

Don't blow up and tell them you'll never fly with them again. This just lets the airline officials know that they already lost you as a customer, and so they have no reason to help you further. Instead, tell them you want to fly with them again, and ask how they can help you resolve the matter. If you have a frequent-flyer account with them, include the number in any correspondence.

Sue Them

As a last resort, if you cannot get a decent resolution, take them to small claims court. This is cheap, and can be done without a lawyer. Each state has its own limits for how much your claim can be (often $5,000 now), but it should be enough to cover any real financial damages. A ticket is a contract for service, so be prepared to show clearly how they failed to live up to the terms of that contract.

Avoiding Lost Luggage

The best way not to lose luggage is to have only carry-on. Otherwise, put your name inside and outside the bag, and include a note stating where you'll be on what dates. Make sure your bags are tagged with the right destination and flight number. If your luggage doesn't show up when you arrive, it is usually on the next flight (if that is soon, you may want to wait).

Lost Luggage Claims

Carry a list of what's in your luggage, so you'll be able to file a proper claim if it is lost. File the claim before you leave the airport. Airlines are liable for up to $750 now, but they exclude many things, including jewelry. Carry any small valuable things on you.

Prevent Luggage Theft

Keep luggage with you if at all possible. Wrap any straps around your arms, so it isn't easy for a thief to grab it. Set purses and day packs on your lap where you can see them.

On busses, I see travelers put their packs into the hold below, not knowing they could bring them on the bus. Their luggage is exposed to theft as the hold is opened and closed at each stop. Keep your bags with you as much as possible.

Once, when I was traveling in Mexico, someone was down below in the hold, cutting open the lining of the jacket in my backpack, removing the travelers checks inside, and sewing the lining back up. It was many hours before I knew that I'd been robbed.

A good robbery makes for a good traveler's story--but one that even the most adventurous traveler would prefer not to have. - Steven Scott

Continue with Chapter 24 here: Travel Packing Tips

Note: This chapter on lost luggage and complaining to the airlines was part of the e-book Travel Secrets. Now all chapters are free on this site. See the homepage (link at the bottom of this page) for a list of all chapters and links to them.

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