Lost luggage on British Airways


Q: Several months ago I bought a ticket for my cousin to fly from Budapest to Denver on British Airways. Her luggage was misplaced for two days and I paid $178.18 for some clothes so she could continue her trip.

After the luggage was delivered, I filed a claim with the airline. A British Airways representative told me I could only get $50 back. Then I was told only my cousin could receive the check. I asked the airline to send the check to my address with my cousin’s name on it. Then it sent me a letter saying that my cousin had to file the claim from Romania.

My cousin did not pay for the ticket, does not speak English, does not have the savvy to file a claim and does not have the receipts for the clothes. British Airways has completely dropped the case. I tried to call its public relations phone number but never get through to a person. All I could do is leave a phone number.

I realize that there are certain policies to be followed, but I don’t understand why someone would not even be willing to consider an exception when I was the one who paid for the ticket. I’ve spent $789 on a ticket and am also out $178.18. Can you help me get my money back?

— Janet Grant

A: Lost luggage is an unfortunate reality for air travelers. Good thing it’s pretty unusual – most airlines misplace anywhere between two and three bags per 10,000, according to the Department of Transportation. And most of the lost items are eventually found.

Under British Airways’ contract, you’re entitled to up to $9.07 per pound for your checked baggage if it loses your luggage. But who decides if you’re going to get the full $9.07? And who can say how much your luggage weighed if it’s missing? Those are questions of policy – and here’s where you get into a gray area.

You were told you could only get $50 back. Where does it say that in British Airways’ contract? I can’t find it anywhere, and I’m left to conclude that it’s a customer service agent making an arbitrary decision about your claim, probably based on an unwritten policy. (In fact, the only reference to determining weight is a clause that says if the weight of your checked baggage isn’t recorded on the baggage check, “We will presume that it is not more than the free baggage allowance for the class of carriage concerned.”) Now, $50 is better than nothing, of course, but it’s less than one-third of what you spent.

Why could British Airways only reimburse your cousin? Again, there’s little mention of who gets remunerated in the carrier’s contract. More likely, it’s an airline policy to deal directly with the passenger instead of an agent or intermediary. That makes perfect sense – unless the passenger is a minor and is unable to file a claim. So there must be exceptions to this policy. Why couldn’t the airline do it for your cousin? I don’t know.

I’m certain that the runaround you experienced isn’t something British Airways does as a matter of policy. Obviously, your claim should have been processed quickly by a real person, not haphazardly handled in a confusing series of phone messages and letters that ultimately left you frustrated and empty-handed. Incidentally, this isn’t the first complaint I’ve heard about the slowness with which British Airways responds to customer grievances.

The carrier took its time getting back to me, too. I sent an e-mail to the airline on Nov. 4 and no one replied. I checked back on Dec. 11 and this time left a voice-mail message. The following day, I received a call from a representative who told me your case had been resolved. She offered few details.

I suspect part of the reason you got the runaround is that you limited your correspondence with the airline to phone calls. It’s always a good idea to follow up a luggage claim with a formal correspondence (either through the airline’s Web site, or better yet, as a certified letter to the company) explaining the circumstances. It’s more difficult for an airline to ignore you if you put your grievance on paper.

Here’s what British Airways did for you: After I contacted it in November, yet another representative called you and asked you to repeat your whole story. The airline didn’t apologize for the way in which your luggage claim was handled, but it cut a check for $178.18 – made payable to your cousin.