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broken suitcase “Hey, buddy, stuff’s falling out of your bag,” said a customer in line at the Denver Airport Hertz. My suitcase zipper was ripped, and I was leaving a trail of balled socks and rolled T-shirts.

US Airways had ruined my bag. But beyond ranting to strangers on the Internet (there are enough stories of satanic airlines taking pleasure in stuffing passengers into sardine cans, gleefully destroying baggage and watching us boil as we stumble through the customer service labyrinth), what recourse does a flier have when his bag is destroyed?

Like most airlines, US Airways requires that passengers report any damage to checked bags at the airport. With US Airways, this must be done within four hours. (Some carriers allow up to 24 hours, but the complaint still has to be made at the airport.) So I zipped back to the baggage claim.

“I’m sorry, sir, we see this happen all the time,” said the claim rep. She told me that airlines are not liable for damage to wheels, feet, zippers and extending handles. “When the baggage handlers throw the bags, the zipper rips off the fabric.” Do they see a lot of smashed zippers when they gently place the luggage on the belt? She obviously had no answer, but she gave me a number to call and register a complaint.

I was then told to e-mail my story to Central Baggage Resolution, a Phoenix-based office only reachable by e-mail. I imagine CBR as a digital bonfire that’s endlessly destroying correspondences. I learned that once CBR receives my claim, it’ll be 14 – 21 working days before I hear from them.

As I continue to hold my breath, I’ve started researching other ways to protect checked bags in the future. My plan of choice is simply to never check a bag, but here’s some info I found:

Both third-party insurers and credit card companies sometimes offer baggage insurance. American Express, for instance, offers free and for-fee baggage protection policies for card holders. I called Amex to learn about its $9.95 per roundtrip flight “premium” baggage policy, which covers checked bag damages up to $1,000. Here’s how it works, according to the customer rep: “File a claim with the airline at the airport. Get the denial.” Then file a claim with AmEx. The claim is reviewed with a licensed rep — but obviously there’s no guarantee that they’ll rule in your favor. The representative did say, however, that there are technically no exclusions for type of damage, ripped zippers included.

According to Smarter Travel‘s Ed Perkins, third party insurers can vary widely — and again, it’s up to fliers to start with the airline, get the denial (or some coverage if you’re lucky) and then file a second claim with the insurer. As always, it’s essential to read the fine print to see what the coverage cap is and if there are exclusions for certain types of damage.

Quite honestly, it all seems like a massive hassle. I paid $50 for someone to rip my bag, rendering it unusable without turning it into a silver mummy. I just want my $50 back. And maybe US Airways could throw in the $3.69 for the roll of duct tape.

Have the airlines ever lost or ruined your luggage? Share your story!

–written by Dan Askin

Editor’s Note: IndependentTraveler.com is published by The Independent Traveler, Inc., a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network, which also owns Smarter Travel.

13 Responses to “Death Pays All Debts (Unless US Airways Killed Your Suitcase)”

  1. Carol Blue says:

    The question is: has an airline ever ruined your luggage?

    The answer is a resounding YES. In 2009 we flew from Savannah to San Diego, and when walking toward the rental car shuttle, a passerby told us that things were falling out of our bag. Delta had ripped two large holes in the bag, and one of the two wheels was off. We stuffed the things back in the bag as best as possible, and when in the hotel we called Delta.

    To make a long story short, there was much shuffling of responsibility among the bag manufacturer (it was a brand American Tourister new bag on its first trip) and two areas of Delta. We purchased a replacement bag in San Diego and went on our 3-week trip. I kept copious notes of who I’d spoken to at Delta.

    Upon return home, I wrote to Delta Baggage and Delta Customer Service (same letter). Attached copies of the baggage tag, receipt for new bag, and photos of the damaged bag with arrows pointing to the damage Delta had caused. I specifically asked for reimbursement of the cost of the new bag. And I specifically stated that I had delivered them a bag with no holes and two wheels, and they returned to me a bag with two holes and one wheel … and just whose responsibility was that?

    Within three weeks I had an apology letter and a check for the amount I’d requested.

    It was time-consuming and labor-intensive, but Delta made up for their damage.

  2. Jolly8 says:

    Many years ago, and airline took my raincoat & my carry-on bag. They stowed it in the closet in the front of the plane because they claimed that the overhead compartments were full. As a gesture of creative torture, they hit a home run! Buttons were of the raincoat and the pocket was torn. The carry-on had no handle and had burst open. This was not the rolling handle, but the flat side handle. It took tape and rope to seal the case. then did replace/repair the bag in about a month. The coat was never repaired. Nothing was offered in compensation. I have never expected any real service from and airline. They are simply a distasteful deathtrap that we must use because of the need to travel quickly from one place to another. On one trip, 50 of us boarded the same direct flight and seven had no luggage arrive at all from a single pile of bags that were together before the flight. Since I gave up being a road warrior & retired, we try not to fly, but to drive to cruise ports. Of course, the TSA, Terrifying Sick Agency, only contributes to our woes. They do fail to provide any real protection using incompetent, unpleasant, poorly trained folk to do the grunt work.

  3. Bob says:

    Hello

    Your first mistake was flying U S Air. As a retired airline employee (LH)
    I would not take a free ticket from them. Greyhound offers better service. AND.
    you can aviod the filthy planes and odors.

    • Myrna says:

      Bob, I totally agree with you. US Air is absolutely the worst airline. I tell my travel agent that if the package travel deal I’m purchasing, tries to book us on US Air, it is a deal breaker. I’ll cancel the trip.

  4. C Moore says:

    My sympathies to the US Air travel victim. I had to cancel a business trip and my wife was on the same $450 ticket.
    No problem US air charges just a $150 rewrite…right? Even though the same ticket, they needed to charge both passengers’ the $150 rewrite plus the online use fee of $25.
    It would have been better to lose the ticket value and not have had to spend the additional 1 1/2 hours dealing with the US Air phone agents to retrieve a $75 credit.

    Talk about customer service…Go Southwest!

  5. LD says:

    Great article. Thanks for posting.

    I got back from a trip on Frontier airlines recently and between my trip out to Utah with a layover in Denver and the trip back, one corner of my bag (including the wheel) was cracked (and by “cracked” I mean the entire corner of the case is coming off) and now the suitcase is useless. Luckily, the manufacturer is only a short 1-2 hour drive away, so I can probably get some recourse there. Ah well. Live and learn and pick your battles.

    Got myself a great carryon and even though I’m flying Southwest next month I’m not taking advantage of the free bag check. It’s not free if it means shelling out for repairs later.

  6. Jayhawk says:

    I can’t believe what the big airlines do and how much they don’t care anything about customer service. I second the recommendation of Southwest. Best I have every flown.

  7. M McIntyre says:

    I’m confused by C Moore’s posting. You cannot have 2 people traveling on the same ticket. So if each passenger is changing, they are changing 2 tickets and change fees are per ticket.

    I have travelled US Airways for many, many years. If fact, they are my airline of choice. Although I don’t agree with all of their policies, I also recognize that I am spending A LOT LESS for tickets than I did 5-10 years ago.

    I think if the traveling public would recognize that ticket prices are unrealistically low and would be willing to pay more, they would not see all the add-on fees.

    And to the retired airline employee, I would take a free ticket on them any day. Have you been on Greyhound lately?

  8. Daggmar3 says:

    Yes. I forget which airline (American? Maybe; before the fees for checked baggage; they busted the zipper on my suitcase and all of the clothes fell out all over the belt, but the gate agents were very nice and lent me something to store my clothes in. The airline repaired the zipper at no cost and brought the fixed bag to my home when the repair was complete. I don’t know if I would find that kind of service now. BUT – I now travel with suitcase belts – for these reasons: more readily keeps the suitcase together and provides an additional handle to grab (if the buckle doesn’t snap!)and I can see it from a distance. I wish I had purchased a suitcase belt 12 years ago when my other suitcase broke.

  9. Jack F says:

    Reminds me of “United Breaks Guitars.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5YGc4zOqozo

  10. Rhona says:

    Our daughter flying into FL from MI on Southwest airlines discovered her bag was not on the carousel. When she went to the Southwest customer service area, she found her bag badly damaged. Within a few minutes, Southwest brought out a brand new bag to replace the damaged one. Now that is service!!

  11. Myrna says:

    I already responded to Bob re: US Airways, the absolute worst airline. But commenting on baggage damage and handling in general, I have to say, my baggage has been damaged in some way by EVERY SINGLE AIRLINE, almost every time I fly! I used to think that buying expensive, good quality luggage was the answer, but found that the wheels, handles and zippers are damaged just as badly as in the cheaper luggage. I’m usually in too much of a hurry to make a claim before leaving the airport, if indeed I even notice the damage there. It does no good to make a claim, because they always deny it anyway. I’ve learned to buy inexpensive luggage and just price it into the cost of the vacation, to be replaced as necessary. Oh, and I never forget the duct tape.

  12. Roger says:

    Why even bother posting? It’s not like anything can be done. Maybe the airlane set these up so that you can vent and let it go. An airline ruined my brand new suitcase and won’t pay because it had an outside pocket with a zipper. You can tell that it was grabbed by that portion of the suitcase by the handlers. What makes me even more mad is that I had to pay extra for that suitcase. But what can be done??

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