When something goes wrong on a trip, you don’t always get the compensation you deserve — you get what you negotiate. Alright, maybe that’s not an original line, but it is an appropriate way to introduce Barbara Leon’s case.

Did American Airlines offer her the appropriate compensation for failing to deliver her bag to Greensboro, NC, on time? Or should it have refunded the baggage fee, as she requested?

These are interesting questions, because there are no real industry standards for on-time luggage delivery, in an age where bags generally don’t fly free. On one extreme, you have Alaska Airlines, which offers either $20 off a future flight or 2,000 miles if your bag is more than 20 minutes late — and on the other hand, you have legacy carriers who often give you nothing.

Leon flew from Miami to Greensboro with her son and his wife and three children in December. She checked two bags curbside, one of which was overweight. Leon paid $25 for the first bag and $85 for the second bag.

When we arrived at Greensboro, the heavy bag was missing. My daughter-in-law immediately reported it to American, and was told it might be on the next flight that would arrive at 9 that night, on an incoming flight by another airline or on the following day.

She was assured it would be delivered to our final destination, my other son, Robert’s house in Boone, NC. We left his address and contact phone numbers.

The Leons had packed their Christmas gifts in the lost bag. They also mistakenly put her grandson’s asthmatic inhaler in it.

After much calling back and forth, the courier, a local older man, said he did not feel safe in delivering the bag all the way to Boone (103 miles) because of snow accumulation on the highways.

My grandson offered to drive from Robert’s rural house to the main highway (194), but the driver would not go farther than Wilkesboro, 33 miles (one way) from Robert’s house in Boone; he agreed to wait for my sons to drive there to retrieve the bag which they did about 9:30 Christmas night.

So Christmas was saved, and her grandson got his inhaler back, but what does American owe her for losing the bag?

I have reviewed AA’s contract of carriage, but cannot decide whether the airline broke the contract by not delivering the bag as promised. Do I deserve to recoup the fee on the checked bag that arrived late?

Luggage fees and baggage delivery isn’t addressed in American’s terms. I suggested she send a brief, polite email to American, describing her problem and asking for compensation. She requested a refund of her bagage fee.

Leon received a surprisingly thoughtful form letter that explained why her baggage was late, and the following resolution:

Under the circumstances, we can certainly appreciate your point about the baggage charge you paid. However, we must respectfully decline to refund the charge. The baggage charge you paid was assessed to transport your belongings as specified under our baggage allowance policy.

At the same time, while we do our very best to ensure your baggage arrives when you do, we do not make this absolute guarantee. Accordingly, while we understand your perspective, the issue of the baggage charge and the delayed arrival of your baggage are two completely separate matters.

Nevertheless, we are not unmindful of the inconvenience you experienced and we’d like to extend a gesture of goodwill. Accordingly, I’ve credited your AAdvantage account with 5,000 bonus miles.

I can see both sides on this one. The baggage fee covered the transportation of her luggage, but no warranties were made about the timing of the delivery. When the post office delivers a package late, you typically don’t ask for a full refund of your shipping fee.

At the same time, isn’t there an implied promise that your bags will fly with you on the plane and that they’ll be delivered when you arrive? Shouldn’t that somehow be addressed, either voluntarily by an airline (like Alaska) or involuntarily, through regulation?

Did Leon get enough compensation from American, or should she try to negotiate a better deal?

You said “no” — by a pretty wide margin.

(Photo by Trey Ratcliff/flickr creative commons)