Q: I saw a story on your consumer-advocacy site about someone who lost her luggage on British Airways and was told to file a police report instead of a lost luggage claim. The same thing happened to me. I was hoping you could help me.
I had visited India to attend a wedding, and on my return trip, British Airways lost my checked bag. I filed a claim with the airline. British Airways rejected my claim, saying that the bag might have been stolen and I need to file a police report. The bag and its belongings were worth $4,927.
Can you help me recover my luggage or persuade British Airways to pay my claim?
A: British Airways shouldn’t have lost your bag. But if it did, the airline should have done the right thing. Instead, it told you to call the bobbies.
What is wrong with this picture? Well, everything.
British Airways should accept responsibility for your bag from the time you drop it off at the ticket counter to the time you pick it up. Period. The fact that this isn’t the first report of British Airways pushing people off on the police is a cause for concern. If it’s happened to two of my readers, chances are it’s happened to more. It may even be part of a new policy, which would be really unfortunate.
British Airways’ website is a little vague on its responsibility. According to the carrier, it is “liable for destruction, loss or damage to baggage up to 1,131 SDRs [about $1,600]. In the case of checked baggage, it is liable even if not at fault, unless the baggage was defective.” Yet it doesn’t really specify when that duty of care begins — or ends. This language is not unique to British Airways. It’s from the Montreal Convention, an international treaty that governs matters such as lost luggage.
Perhaps British Airways is testing a novel interpretation of this duty of care. If it can successfully argue that its responsibility ends after the plane lands but before the luggage is delivered to the carousel — in other words, by suggesting that thieves operating in the airport may have been responsible for the disappearance of your bag — then imagine how much money it could save in lost-luggage claims.
An appeal to one of the airlines’ customer-service executives might have persuaded British Airways to reconsider this position. I list the names, numbers and e-mail addresses of the British Airways executives on my website, elliott.org.
I asked British Airways if it had adopted a new interpretation of the Montreal Convention, if not a new luggage policy. A representative assured me that it had done neither. I also asked the airline to review your case. It did, and it offered you $500 to settle your claim, which you accepted.
Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. Read more tips on his blog, elliott.org, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.