Lesson Learned: Always Tell the Airline About Damaged Bags Immediately

A reader who lives not far from me shared his story of arriving at the Austin airport on American Airlines and finds his checked bags wet and contents damaged.

He’s currently 395 miles from qualifying for Executive Platinum status (and has already more than met the $12,000 minimum spend requirement – in fact he’d have met next year’s $15,000 requirement as well). He had been traveling for two weeks, paid first class, with his two small children.

They went home late on Friday night and he filed his claim with American Airlines first thing Monday morning — so the immediate next business day. American denied his claim because he didn’t file within 24 hours.

I’m very sorry to hear your bag arrived wet with some of the contents wet on your arrival into Austin. I deeply apologize for all the inconvenience this may have caused you.

Our records indicate, you traveled from Washington DC to Austin, on October 26, 2018, and notification of your wet bag and contents was received on October 29, 2018. When you completed your travel and because we did not hear from you within the required timeframe 24 hours, we must trust that your baggage was delivered as scheduled and in good condition. Therefore, I regret we are unable to honor your claim.

By the way he’s only asking for $25 to cover dry cleaning charges. However as a formal matter they’re correct, you have to report damage right away.

That’s true at American and other airlines also. Normally if they didn’t cover damage I’d suggest going to the credit card company used to buy the tickets, many cards come with lost, stolen and damaged baggage coverage. However one of the items they would ask for is proof of timely filing of the claim with the airline — because the card coverage is only going to cover what the airline doesn’t.

Under the rules there’s not much this customer can do. Still, it seems pretty petty to potentially lose a customer over.

I get being tired from two weeks of travel with young children, and assuming that you’ll get a sympathetic ear from a company you spend a lot doing business with over and over. In this case American’s rules trump. Maybe this will at least result in a higher Eagle rating.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. @ Gary — Lesson learned — fly another airline. Idiots. I guess American will end up bankrupt again in a few years.

  2. Here is the argument for an industry standard.
    AA destroyed an inexpensive bag and I reported it to the AA baggage desk at ORD. No problem a nice representative brought out a replacement bag which was too small so he filed the claim for me and within 72hrs I contacted the AA claim desk in Texas and it was handled easily and fairly.

    Two weeks later my wife flying with a different bag landed at RNO and when she picked up her bag at the SWA carousel the wheel mount on one side was torn off. The SWA rep said sorry we don’t compensate for damaged luggage and would not file a claim. When she got home she filed a claim online with SWA and 5 weeks later they mailed her a letter saying it must be reported within 4 hours and therefore denied the claim. I called the Reward desk and they overruled the claim rep and settled the claim when I repeated the story to the Rewards rep.
    What is my point?
    The procedure varies with each airline and some baggage desk agents are clueless or can’t be bothered to file a claim while others are service oriented and do everything they can to make it right before it becomes a bigger problem that damages the customer relationship.
    In our case kudos to AA and raspberries to SWA on this month’s travels but the point is INSIST ON FILING A CLAIM while still at baggage claim and if given a stupid answer get a name and run it up the ladder.

  3. That’s unbelievable…
    I do remember one time though with American, discovering the retractable pull handle broken… I figured bag warranty covered this since it was brand new but no they said call airline.. I just waited a few days until I was going out and coming back home through O’Hare and after I claimed my bag, reported it as damaged and it was assumed it was from that flight I just got off (though it was from last week’s flight) and they fixed the bag.

  4. I am curious as to why the luggage and clothing was sopping wet. Was he traveling on a rainy day and th e luggage cart got left on the tarmac? Or was his connection at JFK during one of their bad plumbing events?
    How often does luggage get damaged? Other than normal scuff marks it has not really happened to the point of me definitively declaring that the airline broke my luggage.

  5. If this trip was in conjunction with international travel to/from the US — even on completely separate tickets and days apart — then AA is still legally liable for damages of which it is notified even 3-4 days after the domestic AA flight.

  6. @Leef33 – a couple of years ago I flew AA JFK-MIA-ANU. I had a window seat in MIA, it was pouring, and the baggage handlers were pushing bags through puddles as they loaded the plane and laughing. I saw one of our bags go through, and sure enough, when we arrived, the contents were wet (including the lovely TSA notice that the bag was opened and checked).

    We were renting a private home through VRBO, so it was easy enough to dry the clothes and leave the bags out for a few hours, but I was pretty annoyed. I wouldn’t bother filing a claim for something small at the start of a vacation, I just book elsewhere next time.

    I did write to American when we returned. I was Platinum at the time, and that wasn’t the only issue – on our way there they had no elite desk open at JFK and we were delayed waiting on line for check-in due to an issue with the kiosks, then when my son was pulled aside for a random screening and I stayed with him, my wife ran ahead to the gate agent – who said “Well, are you going to stay here with him or come to Miami with us?” – we did make it, just barely.

    They had an excuse for each issue, and explained why I wasn’t eligible for compensation on the bags, the delay wasn’t their fault, etc. I pointed out that I wasn’t looking for compensation, I was looking for recognition that while I wasn’t out cash, I had a very stressful trip – and the *only* reason to stick with an airline for status is to make the trip easier. If that was not something they could help with, I have no reason not to go with the cheapest/most convenient/most pleasant. Which I did, I have flown AA a few times since, when the timing or price worked out, but when I have a choice, which I usually do, I book elsewhere.

    Toronto flights are all on Porter. UK is usually Virgin (more pleasant) or United (more convenient). Europe or India have been mostly Lufthansa, Air France, Iberia, Austrian or Turkish, whatever works. Domestically, I like JetBlue or Southwest, Delta frequently works, United since I live near Newark. And once in a while, AA, just because it is the best option at the time.

  7. Flew DEN – MIA – CLT on an overnight flight. My carry on and a back-pack with laptop were in the overhead bin in First (thanks for the overnight upgrade, AA. That is always nice). Came home, and did not open the back-pack for a few days but when I did I found that my laptop had been smashed. I had noticed someone else’s carry-on was on top of my back-pack. I called AA who also told me I had to report within 24 hours. I also filed with Allianz travel insurance who told me I needed a cabin and or airline report, which AA refused because I had not handled the matter at the airport and/or within 24 hours. So guess who ended up paying for a new $750 laptop. Now I always check after arrival AND laptop back-pack, no matter how padded the manufacturer claims it is, stays in the foot well with me.

  8. A useful PSA, even for freq fliers. If you can’t carry it on then ship it or leave it at home.

    Visiting 24 countries this year on all the continents and never check bags hence no worries and no regrets. The carriers can take their checked bag fees and lost bag denials and shove it.

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