American Airlines left my luggage in the rain but won’t cover damage

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Alexandra Wensley’s odds of getting American Airlines to cover her laundry bill were better than average.

The circumstances of her claim seemed to be pretty outrageous, for starters. On a recent flight from Miami to London, the airline lost her luggage for two full days and destroyed six expensive garments, she says.

Wensley also appeared to handle her grievance by the book, sending a brief, polite email to the airline asking to be reimbursed.

And one more thing: Wensley is the director of communications for two luxury hotel properties, so she knows how to make her point.

As if that wasn’t enough, I also tried to help her, contacting American on her behalf.

It didn’t matter. American rejected the case.

What went wrong? Maybe you can help me figure that out.

Wensley’s outbound flight was uneventful until she was told her luggage had gone missing, she says.

When my luggage finally arrived to the hotel, my suitcase and its contents were all soaking wet.

I discovered later that my suitcase was left out in the rain at the Miami Airport. Six of my garments were destroyed.

This all took place at midnight on the second day of my trip when I needed to leave the hotel at 6 a.m. to head to my next business destination in Paris.

She sent a claim to American Airlines for cleaning the garments that could be saved and replacing the ones that couldn’t. The total came to $2,071.

(I’m no expert on women’s clothing, but I know that when it comes to the bill, the fewer questions asked, the better. And so, for the record, let me say that I am not questioning this invoice in any way.)

American Airlines responded by sending her a check for $367 and the following explanation:

The check represents compensation for the emergency purchases you were required to make during the period that your baggage was delayed.

Our records indicate that your baggage was returned to you my the end of the night on October 18. Purchases after that date are not reimburseable.

Hmm, the limit of liability under the Montreal Convention is considerably higher. And the Transportation Department tends to support a more consumer-friendly interpretation of the agreement.

American added:

Damaged baggage (and contents) must be presented to an American Airlines airport location within 30 days of its receipt in order to be considered for compensation.

Wensley is baffled by that requirement.

“I thought this was absolutely crazy,” she says. “I was supposed to take a taxi at midnight to the Heathrow Airport with my wet luggage and pay 200 pounds for the round-trip transfer? I needed to get my belongings sorted immediately, and be ready for a flight to Paris six hours later.”

I agree that it would have been impossible to comply immediately with American’s policy, and since the luggage was left in the rain while under the airline’s care, it should be responsible for the damage.

But American should have informed her of its claims requirements when it lost her suitcase, and she would have had plenty of time after her trip to file a by-the-book claim, if not in Paris then back in Miami. It appears that American didn’t tell her about the 30-day rule.

I contacted American on her behalf. Unfortunately, it didn’t respond to my inquiry. So it looks as if Wensley is stuck with the bill.

She says she’ll think twice before checking a bag again. I would, too.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at . Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • Spanky_McF

    My golf bag LITERALLY had tire tread marks and Northwest said there was no clear proof they had liability.  And then they pointed out the fine print that said they had no liability.  Scum.

  • Ann Lamoy

    http://www.ziploc.com/Products/Pages/BigBags.aspx?SizeName=XXL

    These things are great. I store my winter/summer clothes at the end of the season and can slide them neatly under my bed. I also use them to keep extra blankets stored away for the summer. (Definitely don’t buy from the website-they are cheaper in brick and mortar stores.)

  • TonyA_says

    CORRECTION: The Montreal Convention Maximum Liability for Luggage did increase to 1,131 SDR (Approx $1750) last 2009. Most of the websites out there are still posting 1000 SDR. The US DOT fined United $20,000 just last August 2011 for using the old 1000 SDR limitation in their printed ticket wallet. Now we all know why airlines have to post the 1131 SDR Liability Limit.

  • TonyA_says

    Michael, do you think AA did not know who they were dealing with? The lady works for Mandarin Oriental. If they didn’t give a damn about a person who sells 20,000 EUR a night suites in Paris, why should they give a damn about anyone here in this site? We have no effect on AA.

  • JPainis

     In addition to being able to travel with whatever they want and expect everything to work perfectly, I also think that people should be able to control the weather.
    But that’s just me.

  • TonyA_says

    Take a look at this video about a Cathay Pacific flight form YVR to HKG.

    Apparently, rain is an equal opportunity luggage destroyer.

  • JPainis

     Wow, someone has a stick up their …

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OEPJGQPIEB75YYDE5CJY6R3VFE Carver Clark Farrow II

    I suspect its because if these are her normal clothing she’s not thinking of them as special.  Unlike jewelry, computers, etc.  When I pack my bags, I don’t do a mental calculation of the costs of clothes.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OEPJGQPIEB75YYDE5CJY6R3VFE Carver Clark Farrow II

    Look at it this way, if your two year old Levi jeans are destroyed and it costs you $40 to replace them, now you have new jeans which will presumably last two years longer than the older jeans.  So if you get a full $40, you are actually in a better position as you have extended the life of you jeans by 2 years.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OEPJGQPIEB75YYDE5CJY6R3VFE Carver Clark Farrow II

    I’ve used overnight services to send luggage to my destination and represent many clients who do that regularly. Its not about protecting expensive clothes.  It all about guaranteeing that the items will be there at the time and place promised.  Remember, to these folks, the so called expensive clothes are just clothes.  No executive thinks that $350 suites are expensive clothes.

  • ExplorationTravMag

    Completely uncalled for, rude and offensive.  This is reprehensible and deserves an apology.

  • TonyA_says

    This case should be a wake up call for those flying INT’L. If you think your luggage is valued more than $1750, make a special declaration when you check in.

  • Lindabator

    Unfortunately, the legal responsibility isn’t as HIGH a cost as you might think – most of the fanicer luggage exceeds the payout, and that doesn’t even consider the contents!

  • Lindabator

    Keep the big ziploc bags as an idea next time – use that trick myself!

  • Lindabator

    What I don’t get, is why not arrive EARLIER for the flight to Paris, and put in the claim before checking in?  She could of at least had someone start the ball rolling, and they could have had clear documentation of the problem.

  • Lindabator

    You might be surprised – I’ve had clothes damaged/lost due to a damaged bag, and the insurance covered with minimal fuss – but I have ALSO returned damaged luggage at the airport, only to have them handnew bags returned with a simple signature.

  • Lindabator

    Duh!  :)  That’s what this whole site is about – the times they go wrong!  I’ve been a travel agent for 20+ years, and have had MANY successful claims (including my own).  From lost/delayed/damaged baggage (and contents), to lost or stolen items, trip delays, even just finding a hotel “not up to standards” for a few.  It just depends on what you choose, and that is how I can help my clients.

  • Nancy Miller

    i was an airline employee in the 90’s, and during that time our airline was in bankruptcy (as AA is now) – we were very strongly encouraged to save the airline as much money as possible even if it meant losing a customer (everyone knew this was a very short-term approach, but it was still the policy) – i bet the employees handling these claims have been given the same direction we were

  • judyserienagy

    I am a female business traveller.  If my luggage were left out in the rain for two days, my clothes would be a mess and I would be livid, but nothing would be RUINED, just in need of cleaning and pressing.  However, all airlines’ attitude toward problems, seemingly always taking the shortest, rudest route to a response, is another topic.  Why can’t they hire customer service people who can read and compose a relevant response?

  • http://batman-news.com dragonmouse

    I dunno…If the suitcase was just “wet” because it was left out in the rain…Seems like its kind of a thing that happens.  It’s not like the airlines can control rain.  Perhaps they “COULD” have covered it with a “tarp”…but…really now.  IF her suitcase was on TOP of the other 200 bags then maybe HERs would have been the only one ruined.  I’ve had my “cheap” suitcases rained on before.  They were “loading” the bags when suddenly a “downpour” happened with lightening and the baggage guys “left”…they did so suddenly I suspect they were given “orders”.  (I was already on board sitting by the window watching my bag get soaked).  Some of my clothes were a “little” damp but not a huge deal.  I never thought about suing the airline because of rain attributing to “wet luggage”.  Was the bag left at the Miami runway all alone for a couple of days?  Weird since they freak out if a bag is left alone for 10 minutes inside the airport.  Sounds like she doesn’t need new clothes…she needs new luggage…maybe the $300 is a little low although.

    Can I ask…what would have happened if it started to rain while she was waiting for her limo?