Aviation Consumer Protection
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) released a new website of the Aviation Consumer Protection Division (ACPD). The ACPD receives and reviews consumer complaints directed at airlines. The website contains a wealth of information including DOT rules, enforcement orders, civil rights matters, and consumers’ rights.
Before traveling, it may be a good idea to review some of the issues that may arise. When choosing an airline, remember to check the most recent air travel consumer report. Travelers can view data on flight delays, mishandled baggage, oversales, and consumer complaints. To get the best air fare, travelers should be flexible with their plans, plan ahead, and compare fares between airlines.
It is recommended that travelers avoid putting the following in checked baggage: valuables (cash, jewelry, expensive items), critical items (medicine, keys, passport, tour vouchers, business papers), irreplaceable items (heirlooms, original photos), and perishables.
Under federal regulations, airlines are required to provide a minimum reimbursement of $3,500 for any lost or damaged items. Many airlines limit their liability for lost or damaged baggage in the contract of carriage. This means that the airline is only responsible for paying $3,500 to reimburse the traveler, even if the lost baggage is more valuable. In order to avoid losing valuable baggage, it is recommended that travelers put important items in carry on bags. Furthermore, travelers should put a tag on the outside of the baggage including name, address, and phone number. Most airlines offer privacy tags that protect this information from the view of bystanders.
If your baggage does not arrive on time, file a report with the airline that describes the lost items and proves ownership of the items, if possible. Usually, the airline will locate the lost baggage within a few days. However, if the baggage does not turn up within two weeks, the airline will provide the traveler with claim forms. While filling out the forms, be careful not to exaggerate the value of the lost items. Airlines conduct investigations before paying claims, and any exaggeration or falsity could result in denial of any payment. In addition, airlines often consider the depreciated value of the traveler’s possessions before providing compensation. Sometimes airlines will offer travel vouchers of value more than the lost baggage. Before accepting this option, travelers should review the restrictions on such vouchers, such as “blackout” periods.
If your suitcase is damaged, the airline will probably pay for the repair. However, if the luggage is not damaged, but the contents are, the airline might refuse reimbursement due to poor packaging. When there is no evidence of external damage to the baggage, the airline can decline liability on the basis that the items were inherently fragile. If airline personnel believe your baggage will be vulnerable to damage, they may request that you sign an agreement that the baggage will be transported at your own risk. These agreements are not always enforceable, however, especially when there is substantial evidence that the airliner was responsible for the damage caused.
Finally, remember that each airline has a contract of carriage with specific rules and guidelines. Review those materials before pursuing any action against an airline. Consult with an attorney to determine whether any further action is warranted.