Lost Luggage: Your Rights
When you purchase a flight, there are certain rules and regulations that exist between the airline and you as the consumer for lost luggage. As a result, you have certain rights. Specifically, if you book a flight with any airline, a contract is created between you as the passenger and the provider of the flight.
It is usually standard when contracts are created between airlines and passengers that conditions exist in relation to baggage. Under these conditions, the airline has a specific responsibility to take reasonable care of your luggage. If an airline fails in this duty, if for example they lose your baggage, you are entitled to pursue a claim against the airline for any loss that you have sustained as a result of the missing baggage.
That being said, just because you can make a claim, doesn’t always mean that your claim will be successful, or you will recover your losses in full.
The Montreal Convention
A number of elements are outlined in the Montreal Convention, one of which relates to liability for lost luggage. Airlines have a duty to ensure that when you fly with them, your luggage arrives with you at the right destination. When you take an international flight, the Montreal Convention offers guidance on what happens if your baggage is lost in certain situations.
Most flights that depart and arrive in the UK are covered by this convention.
There are quite specific guidelines that specify the difference between lost and delayed baggage. If your baggage has been missing for over 21 days, it is classed as being lost. Under 21 days, your baggage will be treated as though it has been delayed.
An airline is not liable in every eventuality. The Convention states that an airline is responsible for the loss or delay unless reasonable measures were taken by the airline to avoid the loss or delay of the baggage or specific circumstances occurred that meant taking these measures would be impossible, or the airline can provide proof that the claimant (passenger) contributed to or caused the loss or delay.
Special Drawing Rights (SDR)
If it is determined that the airline is responsible for the loss or delay of your baggage, there are certain rules that govern how much you are entitled to claim. Under the convention, the level of compensation is worked out in accordance with Special Drawing Rights (SDR).
These rights are worked out per passenger. From 2010 the SDR limit was 1,131 for each passenger. If your baggage has a value higher than this figure, you cannot make a claim for the full amount of your lost luggage. Furthermore, the passenger will also have to prove their claim through receipts and other forms of evidence.
Special Drawing Rights are used by the International Monetary Fund and they are monetary units. They operate in a very similar way to currency with the SDR rate changing on a daily basis. Current SDR rates can be found through the International Monetary Fund website.
Sometimes you may carry with you high value items and if you do there are certain rules which determine how you can claim if this high value item is lost or delayed. When you checked in with the airline and you handed over an item to be stored in the aircraft hold, you can make what is known as a special declaration of interest in delivery at destination.
To make this declaration you will need to pay an additional fee at the point of check-in. In this instance, it would be acceptable to claim a sum higher than the current rate of Special Drawing Rights. The liability of the airline will be restricted to the total amount that you declared when you handed the item over, unless the airline can show that the amount you declared was much higher than the value of your interest in delivery at the destination.
In addition, there are other instances when you can claim higher than the Special Drawings Rate if you can prove that the loss was intentional, either by the airline themselves, employees or agents. However, an airline cannot be liable if the employee or agent was acting beyond the remit of their contract or employment.
This will vary from airline to airline, so it is important to check the rules of the airline before you start any claim.
If the case proceeds to civil court and you are successful, as a general rule you can claim costs. These costs are associated with bringing a claim along with interest on the sum that you are claiming. There are exceptions to this rule however. For example, if the airline has made a written offer to settle and this settlement figure is higher than the amount awarded by the Court within six months of the loss or the start of court proceedings, whichever is later, the exception would apply.
Airlines may sometimes, under the conditions of carriage limit or exclude liability. They may even go so far as to offer a sum that is considerably low the figure specified by the Convention. In this instance, their offer will be void.
Making a Complaint
If your luggage has been lost, the first step in the process is to put your complaint in writing to the airline involved. This letter of complaint should be made as soon as practically possible. Ideally within 7 days. If you are late in making your complaint, the airline can refuse to accept liability.
Where the case cannot be resolved, and it proceeds to court, these proceedings should be brought within a 2 year period of the plane arrival or the date on which the luggage should have arrived.
Much like professional insurance, the Convention states that airlines are required to have in place necessary insurance to cover the cost of any claims such as lost baggage. If you are covered by travel insurance, there is nothing to stop you from making a claim under that policy. You may find that it is easier to settle using your travel insurer than it would be if you were to pursue the claim yourself and use the Convention.
Lost luggage is something that no one wants to deal with, whether they are travelling for work or leisure, but it does happen. If it does, you do have certain rights which are outlined in this guide. For further information contact your airline, consumer advice or a legal professional who will be able to advise further.
About the author:
This article was written by a member of the Expert Answers legal advice team and posted by Lloyd Barrett. Expert Answers provides online legal advice on all aspects of UK Law to users in the United Kingdom.