A disturbing new trend at British Airways: refer passengers to the police when their checked baggage is lost. This is not the way it is supposed to work…
Let’s start with this in big bold type:
If an airline loses your bag before it is delivered to you, the airline is on the hook for it.
Dhawan Anil wrote travel columnist Christopher Elliott about a recent British Airways trip. He visited India to attend a wedding and BA lost his bag on the return journey to Chicago. He promptly filed a claim, valuing the bag and its contents at $4,927. But British Airways rejected the claim, instructing him to file a police report because the bag “may have been stolen.”
British Airways’ contractual language is vague. For example, in the case of lost baggage:
The air carrier is liable for destruction, loss or damage to baggage up to 1,131 SDRs (approximately £1,000 or EUR1,230). In the case of checked baggage, it is liable even if not at fault, unless the baggage was defective. In the case of unchecked baggage, the carrier is liable only if at fault.
This invokes the Montreal Convention, an international treaty that governs lost airline luggage. Clearly, BA is on the hook for something…but the question becomes when the “duty of care” begins and ends.
What happens if the baggage is stolen between the time it is placed on a baggage claim conveyor belt and a customer attempts to retrieve it? Or what about the case of unscrupulous ground handlers who might steal the bag after is unloaded from the plane?
Traditionally, the airline would still be responsible but British Airways may be testing a new theory of “duty of care” that could save the airline millions per year.
Spirit vs. Letter of Law
I look at it this way: the Montreal Convention also would place responsibility on the shoulder of British Airways if Anil was flying Delhi to London on JET and then BA to Chicago and JET lost the bag in the India. BA is on the hook because BA is the final carrier.
That may not be the fairest solution, but that is the practice that airlines have contracted to follow around the world. This issue should be no different. While it may not be fair that British Airways is on the hook for a TSA agent stealing a bag, the system works better with bright-line rules rather than flexible standards.
Elliott reached out to British Airways who apologized and paid Anil $500 (should have flown United).
I’m curious about why you think BA’s language is vague. It seems to me to clearly state that the carrier is liable for loss of checked baggage even if it is not at fault for the loss. Further, even if it is vague, is it not a contract of adhesion, and bound to be read in favor of the non-drafter (here, the passenger)? I see the twisting of the notion of “liable,” and how it somewhat gets conflated with the notion of being “at fault,” but I don’t see how that helps BA at all. Is there something about international law at play here that suggests an outcome different from what would be likely in most US (federal or state) courts?
So maybe someone reached out and pinched his bag off the belt? Later someone contacted BA on his behalf and they agreed to an ex gratia payment?
He claimed the bag was worth $4927 (what the heck was in there??!!) and happily accepted $500? Something doesn’t pass the smell test there.
It’s interesting that Elliot says this has happened to a couple other of his readers as well. The BA race to the bottom continues.
Agree. Very odd to accept $500 when he could have at least got the minimum ~$1200 as prescribed by the Montreal Convention IF the contents of his bag were really worth that much.
There’s however a difference between what you claim and what you get. It’s not unusual for passengers to claim the value they paid while airlines calculate on the basis of the actual and current value. E.g. A t-shirt bought at 30$ may be worth only pennies after a year or two (even if it is your favourite t-shirt).
I’d definitely would’ve pushed for the 1,131 SDRs and additional claimed money for the excess with my travel insurance.
BTW I have encountered a couple of EXTREMELY cooperative airlines. One made a report of my damaged bag and told me to “go and buy a new bag” “any bag?” “yes, any bag you want. Send in the receipt and we’ll reimburse you”. Mind you, I didn’t not go crazy and bought an identical case and they did pay promptly.