But when luggage is delayed, the rules say that an airline must reimburse passengers for “reasonable” expenses caused by the delay, such as tuxedo rental for a wedding or purchase of underwear and toiletries, or a bathing suit at a beach resort.
US Airways’ policy is more noncommittal. “We’ll consider reimbursement for reasonable items such as toiletries while you’re waiting for us to return your property,” it says on its Web site.
Effective Aug. 23, new rules will require airlines to refund any fee for checked luggage if the bag is lost. However, the current requirements for compensating passengers for reasonable expenses won’t change, nor will the maximum compensation for lost luggage.
How do airlines persuade us to accept less? They ask for original receipts that they know we don’t have. They claim that they don’t cover fragile items, such as electronics and collectibles. They take forever to process our claims, dragging things out for so long that we forget what we lost.
For the past three years, checked luggage has been a huge profitmaker for air carriers. The industry collected more than $3 billion in baggage fees in 2010, compared with just $464 million in 2007, the year before the legacy airlines adopted a fee for the first checked bag. And for three years, the industry has essentially had it both ways — collecting our money and then losing our luggage without any meaningful consequences.
But that’s changing. Anticipating the new rule that will force airlines to reimburse baggage fees when they lose a piece of checked luggage, carriers have become more cautious about how they treat your property. The DOT last year fined Delta $100,000 for capping expense reimbursements on lost luggage. Perhaps not coincidentally, Delta recently introduced a new tracking system for bags that lets you follow your luggage online and presumably will ensure that fewer bags will be “misplaced.”
Wouldn’t it be something if the government also set minimum compensation amounts for passengers whose luggage just went astray for a day or two? I wonder how it would affect the mishandled baggage tally — and how it would move the needle on the billions of dollars in luggage fees the airlines collect every year.
Elliott is National Geographic Traveler magazine’s reader advocate. E-mail him at