There’s no law that says what airlines must pay for lost bags
Mark Pestronk is a Washington-based attorney specializing in travel law. His Legal Briefs
column appears regularly in Travel Weekly.
the first time — short hops.
I have been reading that the huge spike in
checked luggage is causing many more lost
or delayed bags. Clients have been asking us
to explain how much the airline must pay
when checked bags don’t show up on the
What, exactly, are the airlines’ legal
duties when it comes to lost or delayed
Q:With the new carry-on rules on
liquids, gels and aerosols, my travel
agency’s clients are checking baggage on many more flights, including — for
t ccording to the most recent De-artment of Transportation statis-ics, there has been a 25% jump in
baggage complaints since the liquid-gel-aerosol policy went into effect.
Now, you have about a 1% chance that
your baggage will be lost, damaged or delayed on the major carriers.
This percentage means that, on average,
one passenger on each Boeing 737 or MD-
80 will find that his or her checked baggage
does not arrive when expected.
On commuter airlines, including the big
commuters such as Comair that operate
regional routes for the majors, the problem
is about 50% worse, according to the DOT’s
On domestic flights that are not part of
a passenger’s trip to an international destination, no federal law or regulation dictates
how much the airline has to pay for delayed
or lost baggage.
Contrary to popular belief, it is legal for
an airline to refuse to pay anything to anyone who cannot prove the actual value of
his or her losses.
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For example, if you fly home from a trip
with nothing but a bunch of dirty clothes
in an old suitcase that the airline loses, the
airline owes you only the value of that used
stuff, which may be next to nothing. If your
bag shows up 10 days later, you can expect
no compensation at all if you cannot prove
any financial loss.
On the other hand, if you had several
expensive new suits in your luggage that
was delayed on the outbound portion of
your business trip, and if you had to replace
them in order to participate in your business meetings, the airline would need to
reimburse you for your obviously provable
expenses, up to $2,800.
DOT regulations allow airlines to limit
their liability to $2,800 per passenger by
giving you a notice like the one in ticket
jackets. The limit is voluntary, but all domestic airlines, not surprisingly, take advantage of it.
For flights on aircraft with 60 or fewer
seats, if your ticket does not also cover a
connection to a larger aircraft, the DOT
rule does not apply.
This means that nothing prevents a commuter or air taxi from having a lower liability cap if it wants one, as long as you get
some advance notice.
For international flights, including domestic flights that are a part of your journey abroad, the DOT has no rules.
Rather, a treaty called the Montreal Convention says that the airline does not have
to pay you more than 1,000 “Special Drawing Rights,” which was just $1,477 on the
day I wrote this column.
You can find each day’s exchange rate at
www.imf.org on the lower left of the home
To submit a question for Legal Briefs, e-mail Mark Pestronk at email@example.com.