She Sued US Air for Lost Bag – And WON!

From time to time, checked bags on airlines get misplaced or worse, lost forever. The airlines always fall back on the same thing, namely that their Contract of Carriage limits their losses. Well, one passenger was not satisfied with this, sued the airline, and actually won.

Seems this woman’s teenage daughter was flying from Phoenix to Paris on US Airways. As happens sometimes, her bag was gate checked so she no longer had a carry-on. The girl arrived in Paris but her bag didn’t. The bag did show up nine days later but missing from the now-checked bag were the girl’s laptop and digital camera.US Airways

US Air made an offer of $1,700 plus a $200 voucher but the mother felt this was insufficient. Instead, she sued in small claims court and, unlike most outcomes, the judge actually sided with her and awarded $5,000 in compensation.

In a rare victory for passengers, the judge cited the airline for failing to notify the girl that she had a right to declare the value of her bag before the carrier took possession of it. Further, the judge said the carrier acted “recklessly” by delivering the bag to England, not Paris.

I love the part where the airline argued in court that frequent fliers would know better than to check electronics. While true, I am sure in this instance the judge and everyone else understood they were dealing with a 17-year-old passenger, not a frequent flier. Moreover, the judge said in court…

“I’m not a frequent flier. Most people aren’t either. How would I know that?”

Before you load up your checked bags with expensive electronics, jewelry, cash, or other treasures, keep a couple things in mind…

  • First, part of this award was compensation for the girl having to purchase clothing, toiletries, and other needs during this nine-day delay.
  • Second, this was an isolated case. Very few judges rules in favor of the passengers.

Despite this ruling, it is still never a good idea to place valuables in a checked bag. You may get lucky – like in this instance – but don’t count on it.

Comments

  1. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of press on this decision except for the one story. It seems to me like the judge probably just ignored the law and did what he felt was just. There is a reason people don’t often win in suits against airlines and that is the contract has a choice of law/venue provision. If you could go to your local small claims court every time the airline lost your luggage or did something egregious, customers would probably win a lot of cases. However, the choice of law/venue provision are legally enforceable and force you to go to arbitration/court in a specific location (normally where the airline is based) Here, the small claims court ruled and from the scant information it seemed like US Airways decided it wasnt worth fighting – which would mean spending tens of thousands of dollars in legal feels and bad PR- and just settled the case.

  2. The post also says her bag was gate checked, meaning she intended those valuables to be in her carry-on and was forced by the airline to check her bag at the gate. That may have also worked in her favor.

  3. You stated that the bag was gate-checked so she probably didn’t have a choice in the matter. I’ve been at the gate when they would not allow any more carry-one and then they gate-checked.

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