This outline is intended as a guide to lost baggage claims.
There is good news and bad news about lost baggage claims
The good news is that an airline must pay compensation to the passenger when the airline loses or damages their baggage / luggage.
The bad news is that the amount of compensation payable is low.
For domestic air travel in Australia, a limit of A$160 applies for Cabin Baggage and a limit of A$1,600 applies for Checked Baggage, per passenger.
For international air travel to and from Australia, a limit of approximately A$1,735 applies to cover both Cabin Baggage and Checked Baggage (together) per passenger. The limit varies for other international flights.
These are maximum amounts payable. The compensation actually paid depends on the value of what is lost or damaged.
So, if you are looking in vain for the suitcase or travel bag to appear on the baggage carousel, all is not lost. If the airline cannot find the bag within 21 days, the airline will pay compensation for the value of the bag and its contents. The passenger only has to prove the value of what was lost, and not that it was the airline’s fault that the bag was lost.
Why is compensation greater for Checked Baggage than Cabin Baggage?
The airline has custody of Checked Baggage. The passenger has custody of Cabin Baggage.
Cabin Baggage is over the shoulder bags, small bags with wheels and shopping bags that the passenger carries on to the aircraft as hand luggage / carry-on baggage. Cabin Baggage is stored in the overhead locker, in the seat pocket or underneath the seat.
Checked Baggage is bulky or heavy suitcases and travel bags that the passenger hands over to the airline at the check-in desk or baggage drop. The bags are weighed, a bag tag is wrapped around the handle, and a receipt is affixed to the passenger’s air ticket. Checked Baggage is carried in the hold of the aircraft and is collected from the baggage carousel.
What are the rules for making claims for lost or damaged bags?
Up until 21 days, the lost bag’s status is delayed. The airline will compensate the cost of essential items such as toiletries and basic clothing.
After 21 days, the lost bag’s status changes to lost. The airline will pay compensation for the lost bag, even if it is later found.
These rules apply:
Rule 1: Lost and damaged baggage must be reported quickly (time limits apply)
It is best to complete a ‘missing luggage’ enquiry / report form before leaving the airport. The form is handed to Baggage Services staff or is lodged online. The baggage receipt and the air ticket need to be produced. For ‘damaged luggage’ reports, the damaged bags need to be inspected, or photographs provided.
The search begins when enquiry / report is made. More than 400 airlines worldwide use a computerised bag tracing system called WorldTracer to help their search.
Passengers should include their hotel or home address and a phone number in the report form, so that the airline can contact them to arrange delivery or collection if the bag is found.
The right to claim for a damaged bag is lost if the damage is not reported to the airline within 3 days after arrival for domestic travel or within 7 days after arrival for international travel.
The right to claim for a lost bag is lost if the loss is not reported to the airline within 21 days after the bag should have arrived. This applies to both domestic and international baggage.
In practice, most lost bags are located and delivered within 48 hours / 72 hours, which is well within the 21 day period. The usual reason that a bag is lost is that it has been ‘left behind’ at the airport when the flight departed.
Rule 2: Compensation is paid according to current value
Provided the report has been made within the 3 / 7 / 21 day time limits, the compensation claim can be made later, up until 2 years after the bag was lost.
The question is: How much compensation will be payable?
The answer is: The current value of what was lost, taking into account age and wear and tear. If an item is new, the purchase price is paid. If an item is old, the depreciated value is paid. If the item is more than 2 years old, the item may have no value if it has depreciated down to zero. The same as with travel insurance, purchase receipts are required to prove value. Different from some travel insurance, airlines do not pay replacement value.
Rule 3: Airlines exclude claims for minor damage and for valuable and fragile items
No claims can be made for damage to Checked Baggage if the damage is caused by normal wear and tear such as small scratches, scuffs, dents and cuts.
Most airlines will not accept responsibility for loss or damage to specific items of Checked Baggage, unless the passenger takes out insurance with the airline.
Items where compensation cannot be claimed are: fragile, delicate or perishable items; some musical instruments; for electronic equipment, mobile phones, cameras or computers; for items of special value such as money, jewellery, precious metals or silverware; valuable documents such as money orders, business documents and travel documents.
As a result, these items should be carried in the Cabin Baggage for safekeeping or specially insured.
Airlines require sports equipment to be carried as Checked Baggage because a bat or a club is a blunt instrument which is capable of causing injury. For this reason, airlines are responsible for lost and damaged sports equipment.
Rule 4: No claims can be made for inconvenience
Airlines do not accept liability for inconvenience, stress or other losses if baggage is lost or damaged.
Rule 5: Items found but not collected
Airlines will contact passengers if a lost item is found, and arrange for collection. If the item remains unclaimed after 30 days, the airline will dispose of the item.
Where are the rules which make the airline responsible for loss or damage?
Australia is a signatory to the Montreal Convention (No. 4) on International Air Carriage, which has 108 countries as signatories. This is the latest version of the Warsaw Convention which was agreed in 1929 to limit the amounts that can be claimed against airlines for injury and death to passengers, and for loss and damage to baggage.
Airlines that fly domestically in Australia, and internationally fly to and from Australia, must comply with the Civil Aviation (Carriers’ Liability) Act 1959 which makes the Montreal Convention law in Australia.
The Montreal Convention provides the framework. The Carrier’s Terms and Conditions of Carriage provide the details for baggage claims.
What about travel insurance for lost and damaged baggage?
Summary compiled by
Anthony J Cordato Travel Lawyer with Nedret Madak Law Student