When I was five years old my parents went on a business trip to America for three weeks and I had tasked them with a mission more important than anything MI6 could assign to one of their team – to bring me back a Mickey Mouse watch from Disneyland.
For 21 days, which is an eternity in the mind of a small child, I waited for my parents to come back, Mickey Mouse watch in hand, having completed the most important assignment of their trip.
Finally, the day arrived and I was at the airport with my sister and Aunt, watching the crowds of people flood through the arrivals gate at Heathrow.
My parents finally made their appearance and I rushed up to them, desperate to get my little hands on my long-awaited present. Their worried faces should have told me something was wrong but I was too excited to pay much attention.
“Where’s my watch?” I asked.
Then they broke the news. “They lost our luggage son, the watch has gone”.
Disbelief coursed through me. I refused to take in the news, that the one thing I had been dreaming of for three long weeks was not going to happen. I howled hysterical sobs that no one could comfort. A five-year-olds’ heart breaks often and loudly.
Despite numerous letters being exchanged (this was the early 1980s) the luggage, and my beloved Mickey Mouse watch, were never seen again.
The staggering statistics of lost luggage
In 2014 research found that there were 24.1 million mishandled (lost and temporarily mislaid) bags. That translates to 7.3 bags per 1000 airline passengers.
Almost 50 percent of bags are lost when customers transfer flights. A further 15 percent are mislaid due to ticketing errors and 15 percent are simply not loaded on a plane.
In the last seven years the number of bags lost by airlines has dropped by 63.3 percent and most bags are reunited with their anxious owners within 36 hours. Only around 5.5 percent of bags are permanently lost.
What should I do if my bag is lost or damaged?
If you are the last soul standing at the baggage carousel, with feelings of dread or anger beginning to mount, then take heart. Remember, an overwhelming majority of bags are returned to their owners.
If you arrive at your destination and find that your luggage has been lost or damaged, you need to inform the airline immediately and fill in a Property Irregularity Report (PIR). Although you may be exhausted DO NOT leave the airport without doing this, even if the person on the customer service desk insists you bag will come in on the next flight. The PIR form is essential if you need to make a claim for compensation from the airline or on your travel insurance so make sure you retain a copy for your records. Airlines are also more likely to accept responsibility if you report the lost or damaged luggage immediately.
All major airlines use the World Tracer System. This tracks bags for 100 days, locating with information provided by you and by tracing the journey history.
Any bag that is found at an airport unclaimed by a customer goes into the system, and in most cases, the unclaimed bag and a slightly annoyed owner are reunited.
Unclaimed bags are only stored for 90 days before being disposed of.
International conventions for airline compensation
Warsaw Convention 1929
The Warsaw Convention was the first international treaty designed to bring in uniform compensation for loss and damage caused by airlines.
For an international convention to apply, both the country the passenger departed from and the country they disembark must be signatories.
The Warsaw Convention will generally apply in cases where the Montreal Convention does not.
The Montreal Convention 1999
As of the end of 2015, there are 119 parties to the Montreal Convention 1999. Its terms are more favourable to passengers than the Warsaw Convention.
Under the Convention, a carrier is liable if your checked baggage is lost, delayed or damaged regardless of fault.
Passengers can claim up to 1,131 Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) for lost luggage per person. SDRs value is based on international currency so it can fluctuate. The International Monetary Fund sets the amount and it usually ranges from £526 to £850.
You will need to prove the value of the contents of the luggage as best you can to receive maximum compensation.
If the baggage has been damaged, then you can claim the cost of a new bag or repairs.
It is very difficult to prove that an item has been stolen from your suitcase, as unless you have taken a photograph of the contents (and who does that?) then it is impossible to prove that the item was there in the first place.
When it comes to stolen items, prevention is better than the cure. Make sure you have a secure suitcase and use padlocks.
Valuables should be stored in your carry on luggage. Most airlines have a clause in their condition of carriage which exclude them from liability if these are lost or damaged. Valuable items include:
- Mobile phones
Under the Montreal Convention, the carrier is only liable for damage to carry-on baggage if it was caused by them or their agents.
Making a claim
To make a claim against a carrier you will need to write a letter to the airline and send it along with supporting documents including:
- your boarding pass
- the PIR form
- a description of the contents of the luggage which has been damaged or lost
- if your luggage was delayed, a list of items you had to buy in the interim
- the full details of your flight
Make sure you keep copies of all the documents you send.
Time limits for making claims under the Warsaw and Montreal Convention
Article 26 of the Warsaw Convention provides that any complaint as to delay of baggage must be made within 21 days from the date the baggage was placed at the passenger’s disposal.
Under Article 21 of the Montreal Convention a claim for a delay in getting luggage must be made within 21 days of the luggage being returned.
For cases involving damaged bags, both Conventions state that a claim must be made within seven days.
There is no time limit for reporting lost baggage. Under the Montreal Convention baggage is considered lost after 21 days or if the carrier admits to losing it. The Warsaw Convention leaves it to the discretion of the carrier as to when baggage can be classed as ‘lost’.
What if the contents of my baggage exceeds the total liability amount available under the Montreal Convention?
If you are concerned that the value of the contents of your bag will exceed the amount of damages payable under the Montreal Convention, then you may be able to claim on your travel insurance it the policy states that the insurance company will make up the difference.
You can also make a declaration when you check in your baggage of the value of the contents and pay any fees that are required. If the baggage is then lost or damaged, the airline must pay you a higher amount unless there is fraud on your part.
Court action may be taken against the carrier; however, this should be done with expert legal advice. You will need to provide evidence of you PIR, luggage labels and the value of the contents.
Any court action must be taken within two years of the flight.
Lost, delayed or damaged bags can cause unending headaches for both business and pleasure travellers. A solicitor will assist you with making a claim against the airline, either via one on the international conventions or through formal litigation.
As for me?
One of my Father’s business colleagues from the States made a trip to the UK a few months after my parents returned, and he brought with him a Mickey Mouse watch from Disneyland.
I still have it to this day.
Saracens Solicitors is a multi-service law firm based in London’s West End. Our commercial litigation team can advise both businesses and individuals on making claims against domestic and international airlines. To find out more, please phone our London office on 020 3588 3500 to make an appointment with one of our Solicitors.