A flight attendant took my camera and I want it back

The camera never lies. / Photo by Hunter – Flickr Creative Commons
Question: I need your help with a missing camera. I flew from Boston to Minneapolis on US Airways. When I boarded the flight in Boston, the overhead bins were full. A flight attendant told me I would have to gate-check my carry-on bag.

I didn’t have time to remove my camera — the attendant just asked me where I was going and took the bag from me quickly.

When I arrived in Minneapolis, the camera was gone. I filed a report with US Airways, but it now says it won’t reimburse me for the camera, because it isn’t liable for the loss under its contract. That doesn’t seem fair. Can you help? — Haijun Shan, Minneapolis

Answer: You’re right, it isn’t fair. US Airways, like other major airlines, has a provision in its domestic contract of carriage — the legal agreement between you and the airline — that it isn’t liable for electronics in your checked bag. So if you had willingly checked your camera in your carry-on, you’d be out of luck.

But you intended to carry your camera on the plane. So basically, US Airways was forcing you to check an item for which it wouldn’t assume responsibility. That’s not an ideal situation.

I mediated a similar case with US Airways years ago, and it got me into all kinds of trouble. A flight attendant had also forcibly gate-checked a bag that contained valuables, which were then pilfered. The airline refused to replace them, citing its contract. Eventually, the airline compensated the passenger, but only after a public and very messy fight with yours truly.

Let’s take a moment to understand what probably caused this problem: luggage fees. If airlines included the first checked bag in the price of their tickets, then more passengers would check their bags, freeing up overhead bin space.

If you’re ever in a situation like this again — and I hope you aren’t — try to slow things down. The attendant is in a hurry, preparing the cabin for departure. But you aren’t. Don’t let go of the bag until you’re sure all of your valuables are with you.

I reviewed the correspondence between you and US Airways. The customer service representatives responded to your inquiry with a series of form letters that invoked their contract. You were getting nowhere.

I contacted US Airways on your behalf. It has agreed to cover the lost camera.

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 chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • BillCCC

    I voted yes but I am assuming that customers will be willing to provide an inventory of items in their bag. I am sure that this would be demanded of the airlines if they had to cover all items in a carry-on no matter what’s in it.

  • William_Leeper

    It is my opinion that if an airline’s contract of carriage prohibits them taking responsibility for an item placed in cargo, it should not be placed there!

  • Pat VanHooser

    Maybe they should have employees who don’t pilfer the luggage. Hate to say it, but maybe more cameras watching the workers.

  • Nancy Nally

    Another issue of concern when flight attendants are forcibly gate checking bags that contain electronics, besides the potential of loss, is that many devices contain types of batteries that under FAA regulations CANNOT be placed in cargo due to safety concerns. When I fly, I pack with the assumption that any bag I want to put in the overhead bin will quite possibly end up being forcibly gate checked. Anything that is absolutely vital for me to keep with me, like my electronics, must thus go in my bag that fits under the seat. For this reason, I bought a backpack that fits under the seat that has compartments for both my laptop and my DSLR equipment. It doesn’t leave me room for keeping much else with me at my seat, but I’m secure in knowing that they cannot try to take my electronics away from me.

  • cjr001

    One would think by now that all airlines would have their flight attendants make sure they ask passengers about valuables in bags that they force you to check at the gate before they walk off with them.

    And, in turn, one would think by now that the airlines would take the cost to replace valuables in these situations out of the paycheck of the flight attendant who couldn’t be bothered to take a moment to make sure they weren’t causing their customers & employer a headache.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002500361891 Mark Dixon

    Another win win Chris. Glad you stepped in to right a wrong.

  • Christina Conte

    I agree with you, Christopher. If the baggage fees went away, there wouldn’t be the constant overstuffed overhead bins which is the actual problem. I think the gate-checking is getting out of hand, as in, far too often an occurrence. It used to be rare, but during my son and daughter’s last two (separate) flights, both of their bags were taken at the gate. Last year, they gate-checked my son’s carry-on in D.C. on a direct flight to Lansing, Michigan, and lost it!

  • KarlaKatz

    This has happened to me a couple of times, and as you suggest I “slowed things down”… way down. With my sweetest smile, I carefully placed my bag on the floor and opened it. Once opened, I rifled my own bag, removing items of value such as my camera and jewelry. Of course the FA barked at me the entire time… so? I hung the camera around my neck, and placed the jewelry in my pockets, on my fingers, and around my neck with the camera; I looked like something out of a very bad fairy tale, but I had secured my valuables on my person.

  • sirwired

    As a side note, many credit cards include some amount of lost luggage insurance if you buy the ticket with the credit card. I don’t think it has the same item-type restrictions.

    But yes, the item-type restrictions should not apply for force-checked luggage, unless the force-checked item is in excess of the airline’s carry-on limits.

  • technomage1

    I’m always careful to pack a bag that will fit in the overhead of any type aircraft I’ve ever flown on. Once I was ordered to gate check a bag and started the process of basically emptying in since I carry a lot of electronics – when the FA saw this she let me carry it on.

    If she had not and forced me to check it as was – they would have owed me replacements on everything in the bag had it been damaged or missing.

  • http://flyicarusfly.com/ Fly, Icarus, Fly

    I don’t know if your comment makes sense. If a passenger checks a bag with $10,000 cash and it gets lost, are you saying the airline should reimburse? They don’t cover certain things. If you’re the passenger, don’t check those things. It’s pretty simple.

  • http://flyicarusfly.com/ Fly, Icarus, Fly

    LOL. Great visual!

  • http://flyicarusfly.com/ Fly, Icarus, Fly

    Didn’t we recently have a similar issue with a college kid who gate checked his laptop which was then destroyed? Kudos for US Airways for replacing the camera. (The cynic in me thinks it probably wasn’t an expensive one and therefore not worth the bad publicity.) Just goes to show that there are no hard and fast rules. But I’m guessing the OP arrived late at the gate which was why the bins were full and s/he got rushed. You’ve gotta look out for yourself, people, as it’s clear no one else (except maybe for Chris) is going to…

  • Joe_D_Messina

    I think what they are saying is that if the airline’s contract says they aren’t liable for electronics losses, they have no business taking the carry-on containing electronics and checking it.

    This passenger’s intention was to take it on the plane but they ended up being forced to check it. Now, I think it’s on them to have made it clear there was a camera in there, but would it have mattered to the attendant at the time? Probably not.

  • Alan Gore

    Didn’t the forced gate check discussion just come up, and wasn’t the agreed solution to put the bag under the seat in front of you? Supposedly there is always room for a standard carryon there.

  • Alan Gore

    But in this case the passenger was aware of the rule, and abided by it, but was forced to check the bag anyway. If that happens the airline is responsible for the entire contents, cash and all.

  • http://flyicarusfly.com/ Fly, Icarus, Fly

    Yeah, but as a passenger, I don’t expect the airline to go through a big long checklist and ask me: Is there jewelry? cash? electronics? etc. The onus is squarely on the pax.

    Had the OP said there was a camera in the bag, I would think the FA would have told them to take it out. That said, the FA could’ve spared 30 secs to say: Pls make sure to remove all your valuables. But then again, it could’ve been a time issue.

  • http://flyicarusfly.com/ Fly, Icarus, Fly

    Hi Alan. You may think so, but the law says otherwise. There was nothing to stop the pax from taking out whatever s/he wanted. Had the FA just taken the bag without giving the pax a chance, I’d agree with you. There’s no guarantee of overhead bin, so if you board late and there’s no more space, you’ve gotta be prepared to roll with the punches. In this case, the only person who rendered the OP helpless with him/herself.

  • Chasmosaur

    We bought one of those CarryOn Free bags (which I read about over on ConsumerTraveler.com back in January) designed specifically to get around the Spirit Airlines overhead bin bag fee. Even though we don’t fly Spirit Airlines.

    Not to sound like an infomercial, but I’ve been really pleased with it as a carry-on. It’s surprisingly roomy, and has more than enough room for things like laptops or DSLRs in smaller cases. And I don’t have to worry about my valuables being forced to go into cargo.

  • ExplorationTravMag

    A couple years ago, I did the same thing. B&H Photography has a really great line of bags designed to carry both laptop and DSLR equipment, both the messenger bag type as well as backpacks. It’s saved me from being forced to gate check several times.

    A couple of times when I was asked to gate check the bag, I started pulling things out of it because arguing with these folks is futile and could result in their calling security – and who wants that? Once they see my bag is filled with expensive equipment, they will relent and let me carry it on.

  • ExplorationTravMag

    I can’t believe how tenaciously these airlines will cloak themselves with “the rules” even when they’re the ones at fault.

    Had the Op willingly checked his bag, I don’t know I’d have sympathized. However, he had no choice in the matter and his camera disappeared. The airline should never have balked at this and needed to step outside their myriad of form letters to resolve this BEFORE it got to you. They probably spent more money on the manpower required to deny this than it costs to replace the camera.

  • emanon256

    For those of you who say I am an airline sympathizer, you will be pleased to see I voted yes on this one. I do think they should be responsible. How they will manage bogus claims, I don’t know, but I do think if they take the bag, they should be responsible for it within reason. Perhaps the customer has to prove what was in the bag in advance? That may not be the easiest idea, but I believe if the airlines charging for this service, they should also insure it.

    When I know I will be checking a bag and it contains more than clothing, I actually photograph it and make a list of the contents just to protect myself. I’ve done this with GPSs, Snorkeling gear, a cheaper camera that I didn’t have room for, and other odds and ends. But this can’t be done in gate check situations. And even as an elite flyer who gets to board first, I have in some situations, still been forced to gate check. Fortunately, I have always just had clothing in my roll-a-board. But if I had an electronic, I would do as others have suggested and taken the time to remove it until the airline takes responsibility.

  • ExplorationTravMag

    Moving forward with your speculation of the pax arriving late – what if they were late to the gate because they had just stepped off another plane and IT was late? It’s really not always the passenger’s fault.

  • Christina Conte

    One cannot assume that the OP boarded late. Sometimes they take everyone’s bag past a certain point in the queue of those getting on board. I’ve been one of the first people to the gate, yet due to how they board the plane (according to seating) and not being one of those passengers who has to rush up to be first in line, I’ve end up boarding toward the end.

  • emanon256

    BTW, here is Baby Emanon. He is actually sleeping now, so I was able to read the article.

  • emanon256

    It didn’t upload last time. Maybe its lack of sleep.

  • http://flyicarusfly.com/ Fly, Icarus, Fly

    Definitely could’ve happened that way. I’m not blaming the pax for being (possibly) late, but whatever the case, you’ve gotta look out for yourself. The OP was already on the plane, so if s/he wanted to take 3 minutes to rummage thru the bag first, no one could’ve stopped it.

  • flip44

    Chris, you often talk about personal responsibility, and that is the case here. In spite of the pressure, the camera should have been removed by the passenger.
    Only because of your intervention, did the airline compensate for the loss; really payment for not having “bad publicity.”
    You post often about thefts while traveling, even by TSA agents. When I pass my camera bag thru xray check, I rush to the other side to see if everything is there. It has happened that other passengers will grab a bag and walk off with it.
    My advice as a travling photographer, is to add a rider on your home policy for photo and computers that gives complete coverage without deductible, and is very cheap.

  • flip44

    Your $10,000 example is like Romney’s making a $10,000 bet. Anyone carrying that amount of cash is autoimatically pulled out and interrogated intensely as a possible criminal. Or, proceeds of every outlandish crime they can think up. It is up the passenger to prove differently: a case of ‘guilty’ before proven innocent.

  • Dutchess

    Airlines should take responsibility for EVERYTHING they put in the cargo hold. This rampant theft from luggage is disgusting. With all this security theater, it seems the biggest weakness is baggage handlers.
    Want the TSA to do something we like? Fortify the baggage handling area. If somethings going to get on a plane these days, this is where it’s going to come from. If they can get this much stuff out of the airport, who’s to say what they can get in!

    I will add, as I have in other posts, that travelers need to take responsibility for their possessions as well. Never pack anything you aren’t will to get lost/stolen/broken. This individual should have said something about the camera in the bag before giving it to the flight attendant.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    If it’s just a simple camera as in this case, sure they could have taken it out. But what if it was a camera case with a DSLR and a ton of lenses and some airline employee insisted it be checked, regardless? You couldn’t exactly hold onto that many items and if the airline truly wasn’t going to accept any responsibility for the items, your only choice would be to get off the plane and hope for better treatment on the next flight.

    I see two very distinct occurrences: Nothing wrong with the airline having a policy for checked baggage limiting liability on certain items. But the forced check stuff at the plane of bags that fit the carry-on limits is a different animal and should operate under a different set of rules.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    The boxer Floyd Mayweather released a video about a month back of him on his private jet, counting out $1 million in cash he had in a duffle bag. (I think he was headed to Miami to have some “fun.”) One of the first posts was somebody saying “Expect the IRS at the door in about 10 minutes.”

  • Kitty Mocha

    My thought also. Since the person has gone through TSA security, it must be the airline employees going through the luggage. Do they have a set of TSA keys or do they force the lock/zipper? I have had checked luggage that was opened but no note from the TSA as I thought they were supposed to leave. I never check any valuables and make sure that if a carryon has to be checked I make sure to open it and take out any valuables. I don’t care how long that takes either.

  • http://www.facebook.com/judyserie.nagy Judy Serie Nagy

    The stuff that people carry on to airplanes these days is amazing. Gate agents should be helping to avoid problems, but they just let the flight attendants do the work of trying to get everyone’s bags into the overheads Airlines, of course, have created this problem by charging for checked bags, but it’s the passsengers who are inconvenienced. My advice to travellers who don’t board in the first third of the group should keep their valuables in a smaller bag that they can grab out before the larger bag is forcibly checked at the gate.

  • http://www.facebook.com/anita.dunhampotter Anita Dunham-Potter

    Great job Chris! One thing to note is that every passenger has the right to try and stow their bag. I am always polite with the flight attendants and ask may I try. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told the bins are full and I’ve managed to move stuff around to find space. The gate agents and flight attendants are spring loaded to say we’re out of room. That being said if you are boarding after zone 4 on most flights if they say it’s full it probably is. This is the big reason I try to keep status on my preferred carriers.

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    Hey Anita, thanks for commenting on this story. It’s always good to include the opinion of former flight attendant!

  • Frank Windows

    Flight attendants generally don’t start getting paid until the door is closed. That’s one reason they are in such a rush to finish boarding. Incidentally, this also means the airlines can dodge a worker’s comp claim if they get hurt boosting a bag into a bin… they aren’t actually on the clock, so the airline can argue they were injured on their own time. It’s yet *another* abusive airline policy, one that few people talk about.

    Not that this affects Mr. Shan’s case, but it’s something to keep in mind when considering the FA’s state of mine. (No, I’m not an FA.)

  • Frank Windows

    If I’m carrying on all my luggage, I always take two bags, one small one that has all the stuff I absolutely don’t want to lose: Laptop, keys, camera, etc. That bag will always fit under my seat, so I don’t have to worry about my valuables getting away from me.

  • jm71

    I’m not sure why you would claim the OP “arrived late” somehow making it their fault — in addition to late connections, US Airways has a boarding order — I can arrive 3 hours before the flight, but if in the last boarding group, I’m still getting on close to last and unlikely to find overhead space.

    I agree that OP will know next time to firmly say “NO, WAIT!”, and take the time to carefully search through the bag, taking out anything that’s needed or valuable, but that’s sometimes hard to do with an FA and entire planeload of people impatiently waiting for you.

  • Raven_Altosk


  • Raven_Altosk

    Well done on this one, Chris. I really hate the idea that someone could demand another person’s carry-on bag. What should be happening is gate agents should be policing things a little better so that the oversized rollaboard things NEVER get to the door of the plane. Better yet, charge for roll-a-boards and not checked luggage.

    Carryons are often abused on my least favorite route. I guess when you’re going to Di$ney you need to bring EVERYTHING on with you because spending the $25 to check that ginormous suitcase when you’ve shelled out a couple of grand for a vacation would just be lame or something.

  • TonyA_says

    Hey Congrats!!!

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Great idea on photographing and inventorying everything. Chris has posted several articles regarding compensation for items taken from luggage or when the entire bag(s) is (are) taken. I’m pretty convinced after reading all of those that your idea is the only way to protect myself. Thanks!

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Can’t tell if he looks like you or not. No manic gleam in his eye to denote Yankee fanship . :-D
    Cute boy, though. Congratulations!

  • http://www.facebook.com/jennifer.black.589 Jennifer Black

    My husband was forced to gate check his only bag a couple of years ago on a United Flight from the east coast to Seattle. He had been (involuntarily) assigned the bulkhead seat, so there was NO under seat space either. He had his wallet in his pocket and a paperback book in his hand for his only carry-ons after they forced him to check the bag.

    It wasn’t a big problem for him except for the 90 minute wait (at 10:30 PM) for the baggage handlers to finally get the bags off the plane to the carousel. But he didn’t have any valuables in his bag.

    I really strongly believe that the overhead bins above the bulkhead seats should be reserved for the people sitting in the bulkhead seats, since they don’t have under seat space. And “reserving” the bulkhead above a row for the passengers seated in that row wouldn’t be such a bad idea either.

  • flutiefan

    “The attendant is in a hurry, preparing the cabin for departure. But you aren’t.”

    Really?? WOW, Chris. just, wow…

  • flutiefan

    i watch Southwest every day, and Roomie works there, and we can both attest that luggage fees don’t have a thing to do with carryons and full bins. SWA offers 2 checked bags up to 50lbs each for FREE and they are constantly having to gate-check.
    the fact is that people have more “stuff” than ever, more things that they “can’t live without”, and carryons now come with wheels, so they stuff them to the gills (since they no longer have to carry and hold them throughout the terminals).

  • flutiefan

    no, there’s room for your PERSONAL ITEM there (purse, briefcase, backpack, laptop bag, CAMERA BAG, shopping bag). virtually no underseat area will accommodate a standard 22 carryon.

  • flutiefan

    THANK YOU. F/As aren’t covered by OSHA nor Workers Comp. most people don’t know that.

  • flutiefan

    if they didn’t have me doing the work of 3 people and putting my desk somewhere between 3 different gates, i’d be able to take care of looking around for the larger bags and getting them tagged before boarding even starts. and if they didn’t have the boarding agents running from one flight to another, and timing them on how long it takes to board, and writing them up if they “feel” it was too long, then they might be able to stop the people at the door. just more airline cutbacks so people can have their cheapo tickets.

  • Carchar

    Why does it matter how quickly the doors close? Won’t the plane be in flight for the same amount of time, thereby generating the same amount of pay for the FAs? Is there a deduction for each minute of delay?

  • flutiefan

    what would stop unscrupulous people (and boy, are they out there) from packing a bag that they know is too large, or taking a 2nd carry-on in addition to their personal item, hoping that the bag will be forcibly gate checked, thereby allowing them to file a claim stating there were tons of valuables inside, such as electronics, cash and jewelry, that they know would not otherwise be covered under the standard checked luggage contract of carriage, and fleecing the Companies out of compensation with false claims?

    wow that was a long sentence!

  • IrishStubborn


  • sdir1

    I was once in a bulkhead seat without any overhead space. The space was
    taken up by some kind of ventilation equipment and of course the
    surrounding overhead space was already full. Other passengers were
    annoyed as I rearranged their items to make room for mine. I refused
    the attendant’s offer to check my bag, because it was full of things
    like my camera and glass nic-nacs from my trip. Not only would checking
    it crush everything inside, it also had all my valuables, ID and
    money. It was a regular-size back pack (not a hiking backpack) and was
    the only carry-on I had. Sorry, not going to check it just because you
    stuck me in a seat with nowhere to put my bag.

  • Cybrsk8r

    I think one solution would be for airlines to enforce the limits on the size of carry-ons. The way it is now, “if it fits, it flies”. I’ve seen people trying to cram huge carry-ons in the bins. Just one of those can eat up a whole overhead bin.

  • Extramail

    Be careful what you wish for – airline might think to start charging for that space, too!

  • TonyA_says

    You bring up a good point. People want to save time (not waiting for bags in the carousel) and want to minimize luggage loss. Airlines have not really addressed these 2 issues well.

  • flutiefan

    my response from another comment. perhaps some perspective from my side:
    if they didn’t have me doing the work of 3 people and putting my desk
    somewhere between 3 different gates, i’d be able to take care of looking
    around for the larger bags and getting them tagged before boarding even
    starts. and if they didn’t have the boarding agents running from one
    flight to another, and timing them on how long it takes to board, and
    writing them up if they “feel” it was too long, then they might be able
    to stop the people at the door. just more airline cutbacks so people can
    have their cheapo tickets.

    edit: we also get SCREAMED at when we tell people they have too much stuff or their item is too big: “I carry this on all the time!” and i’m sorry, but getting yelled at like that beats you down.

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott


  • flutiefan

    it’s been estimated that every minute delay costs the airline $75. mostly this is due to the fuel that is burning while the plane is idling at the gate. i just read that in an article today, and i will see if i can find it again for reference.

  • RetiredNavyphotog

    It’s nice to hear the other side of things. Thanks.

  • Ann Lamoy


  • Ann Lamoy

    I voted yes but I think it is a complex issue.

    I get that people really hate the checked bag fee. One of the reasons I fly Delta (besides the fact that it generally has the cheapest flights for my trips back East to visit my family) is that I have a Amex card that gets me a free checked bag. But I am flying to Vegas in two weeks on Alaska and not getting the free bag. But I am still checking it because I hate dragging that bag on the plane and trying to stow it overhead. $40 (the RT fee) is worth it to me for not having to drag the bag on and off twice, plus the hoisting up and down. Forget cross country flights with connections.

    What I think needs to happen-since the airlines will not change and get rid of the fees-is for them to start tightening up on the size of the bags. Start at check in. I’ve seen a number of people with oversize bags at check in, merrily rolling them away from the check in desk. Right there is a spot they can be told-you need to check your bag or you will not be allowed to get on the plane. Clearly (from comments above) the gate agents do not always have time to tag the bags so relying on them to do it is not enough. Same thing with curbside check in.

    Not everyone will get pulled caught at that point but it can filter out many of the oversize bags. This will assist the gate agents. And maybe it would be worth it for the airlines to have one employee make the rounds of a number of gates simply to be a roving “tag the bags”, assist the regular gate agents person.

    Again, it won’t necessarily get everyone but it is one more layer. And we, as the consumer, need to start stepping up to the plate. Stop bringing fifty billion things with you onto the plane. I get people hate to go to the baggage carousel and wait but really? It isn’t that bad. Planning is key, And learn the art of packing.

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    A few of you have asked about the original US Airways column from 2003 that I referenced in some of my social media posts — the one that got me fired from USA Today.

    Here it is in its entirety.

    US Airways lost my luggage

    Q: I took a vacation to Bermuda with my three daughters in 1999. On our return flight, we each checked one piece of luggage and brought one carry-on.

    Just before takeoff, someone in first class boarded the flight. Since the overhead compartments were already full in the front of the cabin, a flight attendant opened the compartment above my daughter and took her bag out to be checked in. My daughter tried to tell her that my wallet and house keys were in the bag but she told my daughter to be quiet and to behave before she called the captain on her.

    The carry-on did not make it. It went missing for three days, and when it was returned, my souvenirs were gone, my wallet was empty and most of my jewelry had been stolen. I filed a claim at the airport but in the meantime, I had to find a way home and had to hire a locksmith to get back into my house.

    US Airways offered me goodwill vouchers after the incident, but I just want the airline to process my luggage claim. Can you help me? — Rosemary Daly, Philadelphia

    A: That’s an unbelievable story.

    You claim a crewmember removed a regulation carry-on against your daughter’s will. Then you say the carrier stonewalled you for years on your request to process a luggage claim. It refused to even consider looking at your claim.

    In the five years I’ve been writing this column, I’ve never heard anything quite like that.

    But is that what really happened?

    US Airways would neither confirm nor deny the details of your story, but it agreed to reopen your case. At one point during its own investigation, it claimed to have resolved your dispute, but that turned out to be wrong. The airline had just sent you another form letter.

    When I e-mailed a company spokesman to check the status of the investigation, I received the following response: “I told you before that we DO NOT discuss customer issues with the press and we are not about to start. THIS MATTER IS NOW CLOSED.”

    (In fact, US Airways has discussed numerous customer issues with me in the past. If it has such a policy, it is not always enforced.)

    Here’s what US Airways agreed to do: It offered you five $150 vouchers as a “gesture of goodwill,” which you accepted and eventually redeemed. It apologized to you and your daughter in writing. And it reportedly reprimanded the flight attendant involved in the forced check-in incident.

    Given that US Airways won’t talk to me about this case, and that it has apologized to you and offered you vouchers, I have no choice but to believe your story is true.

    There’s one more thing US Airways needs to do, and that’s process your initial luggage claim. If it denies you any compensation, that’s fine – but at least it should look into your claim.

    However, in a written response to your request, Nancy Lash, a consumer affairs representative, turned you down. Why? She cited a two-year statute of limitation on baggage claims and also noted that valuables aren’t covered under its terms of transportation.

    “We are not in a position to offer further compensation,” she added.

    That’s too bad. You’ve been trying to get US Airways to process your claim for the last four years. If the airline had acted sooner, the two-year statute wouldn’t be an issue. Besides, your daughter didn’t voluntarily check in your bag. The luggage was forcibly removed, which means its terms don’t apply. (And by the way, I wouldn’t call goodwill vouchers “compensation.” It’s airline funny money.)

    I’m baffled by the way US Airways responded to this case. If any other carrier had mistreated a customer like you, I believe it would have gone out of its way to make amends rather than string you along for years and then react with such hostility when a journalist tried to act as a mediator.

    I’m really stunned, and I think it says something about the kind of airline US Airways has become.

    Fortunately, the Department of Transportation’s Aviation Consumer Protection Division agreed with me, at least to a point. After I helped you bring your grievance to the government’s attention, it promptly recorded your case as a complaint against US Airways. The airline’s incompetence will go on its permanent record – and deservedly so.

    Next time you fly, keep your valuables on your person or ship them (and buy plenty of insurance). But when it comes to your luggage, trust no one.

    After this column appeared, US Airways sent Daly another $1,000 worth of vouchers to settle her claim.

  • y_p_w

    Ever see “Die Hard 2″ where the reporter asks his cameraman whether or not he checked in the radio equipment, hoping that it was carried on so that he could listen in on the radio chatter? The cameraman says
    several not so nice things in describing airline personnel handling his delicate equipment.

    Personally I think I get along pretty well with my 21” upright suiter, although I have seen people hauling considerably larger bags.

    As for Southwest, I remember coming back from a convention where a coworker asked me to bring a bag with expensive and delicate equipment that was not to be checked in. I remember all the stuff I had without anything checked in. I had my own bag as well as several plastic bags with lots of schwag I picked up at the convention. It was a heavily attended convention and they flight was full. The sense I got was that the Southest personnel didn’t really care as long as I had some place to stow all of it.

    Of course these days I get the feeling that it wouldn’t work like the old days.

  • y_p_w

    I had one piece of checked in luggage on a flight to Honolulu. We were meeting up with another couple and my wife wanted to wait for that flight to arrive since we were already in the “sterile” area. I wanted to get to our luggage quickly and asked an airline employee what I should do. She said we should go an get our bags immediately because there had been numerous luggage thefts with unsecured carousel areas.

    I remember getting baggage claim checks before and being asked to match up luggage to the tags, with the carousel areas not open to the public. I’m wondering why I don’t see that any more except for international travel.

  • TonyA_says

    I don’t even see tag checking/matching (before leaving the terminal) for international flights anymore at JFK. You are pretty much dependent on the honesty of the human race.

  • fshaff

    I never ever heard of a plane starting engines at the gate and idling. Every time I’ve flown, they wait until push back and unhooked from the tug before starting. A lot safer for all the ground handlers near the plane. The only thing that I can think of that would be running, would be the APU to provide air/elec until engine start. I would like to see that article you are referring to.

  • fshaff

    Although SWA doesn’t charge bag fees (2 free), I have seen their overhead bins stuffed to the gills and some poor unlucky souls (the last to board) sometimes have their bags taken by the FA to be put in the belly. I don’t like bag fees, either, but not sure if eliminating them would be a sure-cure.

  • Rose Arnold

    Who ARE these 8%?

  • Michelle C

    This happened to my mother recently… forced to gate check a bag because the bins were full. The FA was hurrying her, and she wasn’t giving up the bag until her laptop was removed. The flight attendant told her the bag would be given back to her at the gate, but when she arrived her bag wasn’t available. Turns out the bag would not be available at the gate and it was delivered with the regular luggage at baggage claim. We all know how gentle the bags are handled. This would have meant either a stolen computer or a broken computer, and a lot of undue stress to deal with if my mom hadn’t stood her ground and took the time to get her laptop out of the bag.

  • Michelle C

    It wouldn’t be sure cure. Too many lost bags, and rifled through luggage is what makes people bring on a carry on. It isn’t smart to travel without a days worth of crap, and valuables in a carry on.

  • Trudi

    Much as this situation really sucks, I also think we need to be intelligent consumers. We know, at least anyone who reads Chris’ articles know, that if anything goes wrong the airline will rarely take responsibility. I do similar things as FrankWindows and KarlaKatz – I simply won’t let my valuables out of my control. So far, it’s worked well. Rules need to change; in the meantime, we need to take a defensive approach to travel.

  • Trudi

    I’ve watched luggage handlers loading the plane. I know they are in a hurry, but anything breakable will likely be broken. Then I see people put guitars in overheads, and I know the people who carry them worry they’ll be stolen or destroyed in luggage. I don’t check anything I can’t replace because someone is riffling through and leaving TSA love-notes. If they can do it, anyone else can to. It’s hard to feel safe.
    On the other hand, why do people pack so much stuff! I have a friend who takes 4 suitcases for a 10 day visit to her mother! I’ll bet she doesn’t use half or more of what she takes. I can go on a 3 week vacation with a single bag and a small personal bag and that includes make-up and shoes!

  • Trudi

    you’re kidding, right? There’s enough real theft going that the airlines don’t care about. False claims would be way too much work for that vast majority of con-artists. I can see you’re trying to show the ‘other side’, and that’s admirable. I can see the other side of this issue; the problem with theft from luggage involves more than just the airline. However, if the flight attentdant or gate attendant takes the luggage then that cuts out a couple of steps between luggage check-in and luggage loading. Hense, the airline should accept responsibility at that point.

  • Cyn2

    All those people matching tags to bags cost money. That’s why you don’t see it any more. Phoenix airport was the last place I saw it, and that was years ago.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    I have to admit that I’m in the dark here as to *why* you were fired. From my viewpoint, this is you at your absolute finest as a consumer advocate. Since this is the closest I come to “social media” and the only time I read USA Today is when it’s the only paper I can find on the road, can you enlighten me?

  • http://www.talestoldfromtheroad.com/ Dick Jordan

    Here’s a thought: Do airliners have enough overhead bin storage to allow every passenger to carry aboard 1 “legal size” bag? If so, then airlines who don’t enforce the policy have breached their contract of carriage and if they force a passenger to gate-check a “legal size” bag and its contents are stolen or damaged, the airline should have to pay the full value of those items, without limit.

    But the practical approach to take, as others have suggested, is to put what you really need (camera, electronics, meds, airline/train/boat tickets, toiletries, and clean underwear—just in case you get sent to a hospital E/R before your forcibly-checked bag is delivered to you) into a separate bag that you can squeeze into an overhead bin or toss under the seat. That way if your “legal size” carry-on bag is gate checked and is lost, or if its replaceable contents get damaged or stolen, you won’t be totally out of luck.

  • Bill___A

    Before baggage fees, there were still lots of people hauling oversized bags onto the plane. It is moreso now, but it was too much before. If it doesn’t fit into the sizer, it shouldn’t go on. If the bins are full, the FA’s should be going down the aisle anbd checking the oversized bags, not the ones of the passengers who packed properly and were just last in line.
    I think at this point, I would probably take another flight rather than gate check. Someone forced me to gate check a bag in 1985. That was the first and last time.

  • AndTheHorseYouRodeInOn

    Impossible, too many poles, corners, walls, shadows to hide in, around or behind. I agree though, the quality of life that has been hired in the past ten years is nothing short of criminal.

  • technomage1

    I’m not saying you’re wrong…but if I can deploy to a war zone for 6 months with that personal baggage allowance (and I do, even though I am entitled to 70 lbs I pack under 50 lbs per bag) I think people can learn to live with less considering they are probably gone for a lot less time than me.

  • http://www.blackchickontour.com/ Terri Lundberg

    I recently just purchased a backpack for the exact same reason. i don’t really have problems getting space since I’m Platinum and boarding first, but, you never know.

  • http://www.facebook.com/CarverFarrow Carver Clark Farrow

    That’s a very personal thing. Each person’s needs are different.

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    Sure. This is a real blast from the past. This post appeared on my site about 10 years ago but I can’t find the original. So I’ve just republished everything here.

    During the last month, I’ve received numerous calls and e-mails from readers concerned that one of my key outlets, USATODAY.com, was on the verge of canceling the Travel Troubleshooter column, a feature that advocates for the traveling public. There were rumors that my criticism of US Airways’ inadequate customer service and inept management had prompted the carrier to threaten USATODAY.com to pull its ads.

    On late Monday, I received the following letter from Kinsey S. Wilson, the site’s editor-in-chief. Wilson is not my immediate editor, and as a point of disclosure, this is the first time we’ve corresponded. I am publishing the letter – and my response – in the hopes that it will answer some of these questions. If you have any comments, please e-mail me.


    We have decided to drop your column. The decision is neither a reflection upon your journalistic integrity; nor a case of our yielding to a disgruntled advertiser, as you suggest.

    Rather the decision is based on two strictly editorial considerations: our confidence in your ability to deliver a column that is consistent with — to use your words — the “tone” and the “approach” that we have defined for the column; and an admittedly belated recognition on our part of the fundamental conflict between your role as a commentator and the role we’ve asked you to play as a neutral troubleshooter, or ombudsman.

    The troubleshooter column demands an even-handed approach to resolving customer complaints based on a deliberate, unbiased examination of the facts . If you are, it potentially undermines your ability to deal with effectively with the companies that are the target of the complaints.

    On at least two occasions now, your columns have overstepped those bounds. You may be entirely justified describing USAirways as an airline in chaos. But such unsupported opinions have no place in the column we commissioned.

    Moreover, with your commentary appearing in other forums (for example your Nov. 25 blog item on USAirways), the potential of an appearance of conflict is almost unavoidable. Questions may legitimately be raised whether a staunch critic of an airline can at the same time take an even-handed approach to examining and reporting on consumer complaints directed at that airline.

    For those reasons we have decided to discontinue the column.
    In keeping with your work for hire agreement (dated 2/25/2003), we hereby electing to terminate our agreement with the required 30 days notice. Accordingly, you will be paid for the columns we commissioned through December.

    Please feel free to contact me if you have any further questions,


    Kinsey S. Wilson
    Editor-in-chief USATODAY.com

    Here’s my response:

    Dear Mr. Wilson:

    Thank you for your e-mail of Monday, Dec. 1, notifying me of your intention to drop my column.

    I’m sorry you’ve decided to end the Travel Troubleshooter on USATODAY.com. During the last year, I’ve enjoyed helping your readers solve their travel problems.

    You asked me to contact you if I have any further questions, and I do have one or two. I’d like to understand how the two columns crossed a line so that I can prevent this from happening again.

    In the first article, I had been working with a reader whose carry-on luggage was checked in against her will. The contents of her bags had been lost, but US Airways refused to process her luggage claim. The case had dragged on for the better part of four years, yet US Airways refused to even discuss the matter with me. Eventually, I gave up.

    “Stories like this,” I wrote, “make me wish US Airways would do us all a favor and go out of business.”

    At least two editors at USATODAY.com read that comment and allowed it to be published. Then it sat online for several weeks without incident. Why did it only become a problem after a link to the story was posted to an online forum frequented by US Airways management?

    If that particular comment was unwarranted, then why didn’t USATODAY.com run a correction, in accordance with its own standards? Instead, the offending sentence was quietly removed.
    After that, you doubled the frequency of the Travel Troubleshooter and offered me a raise. I interpreted that as a sign that you were happy with my column and rewarding me for calling a case like I saw it. Was that the message you intended to convey?

    The second instance is even more baffling. In it, I explained to a reader who hadn’t been notified about an airline ticket tax that the US Airways employees who failed to tell him about the surcharge probably had other things on their minds – like where their next paycheck would come from. I asserted that the airline was being run by a bumbling management team.

    “You may be entirely justified describing USAirways [sic] as an airline in chaos. But such unsupported opinions have no place in the column we commissioned,” you wrote.

    Indeed, my comment about US Airways being “in chaos” never appeared on USATODAY.com. It was cut from the story.
    Still, if you had a problem with an “unsupported” opinion, then why didn’t you – or one of your editors – ask me to supply the needed evidence?

    You also claim that my frequent criticism of US Airways leaves readers with the perception that I have “an ax to grind” and that it undercuts my “ability to deal with [sic] effectively with the companies that are the target of the complaints.”

    Even a cursory review of my past columns will reveal that I’m quite successful at securing refunds, credits or apologies on behalf of your readers who would otherwise have had no recourse. In the last year, I can only recall two cases where the travel company refused to help a customer with a legitimate gripe. How much more effective do you need me to be?

    I’m disappointed by your reference to my blog, because it honestly comes as a surprise to me. You’ve never cautioned me about the unedited and candid comments that appear on my site. Further, a more complete review of my blog and my previous commentaries will reveal that I am critical of any travel company that takes advantage of its customers, not just US Airways. Where has the concern for those companies been all along?

    Finally, you cited a conflict between my role as a commentator and “a neutral troubleshooter, or ombudsman.” Are you aware that an ombudsman is a representative of the reader and by definition can’t – and shouldn’t – be neutral? Before you agreed to begin publishing the Travel Troubleshooter, did you take the time to read through the column archives dating back to 1999, in which I frequently take travel companies to task for their misdeeds?

    I want nothing more than to believe USATODAY.com belatedly recognized an incompatibility between my mission as an advocate for the reader and a commentator.

    But can you understand my skepticism when both incidents involved one airline? Can you see how hard it is for me to believe what you’re saying, given the peculiar timing of both events? Do you understand why I’m puzzled that it took you more than one year to conclude the Troubleshooter was missing the mark?

    I look forward to your response.


    Christopher Elliott

  • John R. Strohm

    With all due respect, you are probably not an asthmatic with obstructive sleep apnea, who carries a laptop computer and DSLR camera. I am. I carry two bags on, the rolling bag full of medical equipment and medications and usually one (1) book, the backpack full of camera and computer and ancillary gear (spare battery packs and chargers, power supply), headphones, CD player, and CD wallet.

    I almost had a real problem with TG a year and a half ago. They finally relented and allowed me to carry my asthma nebulizer as a small purse. The CPAP still had to be checked. I think what caused the gate agent to relent on their strict “one bag, 10 kg” rule was the realization that the home office might ask unpleasant questions if they had to divert a nearly-full 747 into Pakistan because of a medical emergency that could have been avoided by allowing me that purse.

  • technomage1

    Medical equipment needed on board is another case, of course. But I do have to carry a spare uniform, gas mask inserts, ballistic glasses, my laptop, and records. That’s not including entertainment options for the 24+ hours I am in the air – or things like my checkbook. And I fit it all in a smaller bag than the max limit. Same with my personal gear that goes in the belly of the aircraft. I have to fit a gas mask, canteen, web belt, and 6 months of uniforms and PT gear in 2 bags.

    All I’m saying is – people generally don’t need all the stuff they think they do. There are exceptions to that, of course and you may be one.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Hmmm. No, of course your cases regarding US Airways, or USAirways (#snerk), had nothing to do with Kinsey’s decision. Nope, nothing at all.
    Thanks for enlightening me.

  • TonyA_says

    No wonder some folks call them PRESSTITUTES.

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    Well, I’ve had a pretty decent relationship with USA Today in recent years, and I still have a lot of respect for many of their reporters and editors.

    As for Wilson, he not only won that round — I was sent packing, he got promoted — but his vision of 21st century journalism appears to be in sync with the mainstream view.

    A few years after this dustup, he moved to NPR, where he’s been promoted several times since. I wish him, and NPR, all the best.

  • amyarrow

    I’m not sure exactly what you are objecting to….? Chris wasn’t speaking bad of flight attendants. He was pointing out that the flight attendant’s focus/job is to get the cabin ready for departure on time but that shouldn’t preclude you from taking an extra second (whether they like it or not) to remove your valuables if they are going to force you to check your bag.

  • Raven_Altosk

    The more yelling and barking they do, the slower I’d move. Then, if they said anything, I’d claim they were insulting me because I have a disability and that I am feeling discriminated against. I don’t, but throwing the protected class card in their face usually shuts them up.

  • Raven_Altosk

    Agreed on the false claims, but if some arrogant FA is going to take my electronics from me because s/he is too lazy to tell bridezilla to check her oversized suitcase, I’m going after the airline.

    Yes, it happened. Fortunately, I was able to retrieve my laptop before she snatched my case. See, I was running late for a connection, was one of the last ones to board, and of course everything was full. When I opened the bin, I saw a ginormous bag that so did not meet requirements. But! It was for a bride, so apparently that’s more important than the rules…

  • Raven_Altosk

    So here’s a question: What accommodations are made on airlines for people who are in bulkhead seats and need to carry on a diaper bag? Things like this never crossed my mind before, but boy are they in my head now.

    Would someone with a diaper bag who is one of the last ones to board be expected to give that up?

  • naoma

    I saw a story (may have been covered here already) about a gay couple who had their bag opened and someone heavily taped a “sex toy” to the outside of the baggage. I have had my “personalized luggage tags” stolen. Hope the person who took them is named naoma!!!

  • flutiefan

    you’re right, it’s probably the APU. i’m not good at that airplane stuff LOL.
    here’s the article: http://travel.usatoday.com/flights/story/2012-08-12/Now-arriving-on-time-Your-flight-and-suitcase/57014592/1

  • flutiefan

    i’m not kidding. you should see what i see people trying to pull every day. but yes, i am showing the other side of things. just saying that people will come up with ways to cheat, and there may be unintended consequences to well-meaning suggestions. in this particular case, yes, it does seem something was awfully shady.

  • flutiefan

    also, does anyone know is USAir in Boston uses their own employees on the ramp (the guys who actually load the baggage after the flight attendant or operations agent leaves it in the jetway and sends it down the slide), or if they are contract workers? it sounds terrible, but contract workers don’t have a horse in the race for an airline’s success nor failure. if that airline goes out of business or faces this kind of scrutiny, their company (the contracted vendor) will just reassign their guys to a different airline. sad, but true.

  • flutiefan

    those claim-checkers were employed by the airports themselves. post-9/11, when they couldn’t even keep restaurants and other vendors in the terminals, they were the first to be cut.
    many people think this was an airline decision; it was not.

  • flutiefan

    i’m not wrong ;) and i think you proved my point perfectly! people just don’t need all this crap.
    thank you for your service, and i wish you the best!!!

  • flutiefan

    i agree, and (at least at my airline), my coworkers and i are very good at assessing carry-on size and requiring passengers to test them in the sizing bins when they are at the ticket counter. we want to take care of it then & there. but… as someone who works both the counter and the gate, let me assure you that somehow “things change” between the 2 while the passenger is on their way to security or in the terminal prior to boarding. they had their personal item and carry-on. now they’ve decided they want to stuff their purse or laptop bag in that carry-on. they unzip the extender panels (man, i hate those things). their bag is now a good 4 inches wider than it was when i saw it at the counter. or they go shopping in the terminal. they buy a sweatshirt, some shot glasses, a stuffed animal. those gotta go somewhere. so now they either have 3 items (including the new shopping bag) or they’ve again decided to stuff their purchases in their carry-ons. this happens more than people know!!!
    not saying you’re not right. you very much are. i just wanted to point out that it’s not a perfect system :)
    and your last line should be instilled in everyone attempting to board a plane!!!

  • flutiefan

    it makes it sound like he’s suggesting passengers deliberately delay flights so they can put up a fuss when being asked to gate-check a bag due to full overhead bins (not just taking an extra second… his implication is much more than that, IMHO). not cool. you’ve not only got a flight crew that needs to go, you’ve likely got a full plane of people just waiting on YOU.

  • Brian Janis

    I’m a professional photographer who travels with a bag that fits in the overhead bin. About $10,000 worth in there. I’ve been asked at the gate to check it, as the bins were full they said. I asked if they were going to cover $10,000 worth of electronics, which i know from their website they will not, and FA says “No.” I refuse to check it and they find the space. Remember people, they take NO responsibility for any kind of valuable. Read the contract.

  • John R. Strohm

    From PERSONAL experience: The DC-9 Super 80 does not have enough space in coach, because of the narrow fuselage and 3/2 seating. The left side overheads are not deep enough for the standard bag. The right side overheads are perfect.

    The Boeing 737 and 757, with 3/3 seating, have sufficient space.

    The Boeing 777 may or may not, depending on seat configuration. The narrower seats on some airlines, to get more people in, make it difficult for the middle section. Other airlines don’t cram in quite as many seats, and the bin space is adequate. Depth is MARGINAL on the inboard bins: my standard size carry-on is about 1 inch too long for the inboard bins, but fits perfectly in the outboard bins. (American Airlines International Business Class on the 777 has PLENTY of space, and I usually manage to get the upgrade when I fly DFW-NRT, either way.)

    The JAL Boeing 767 seems to be OK, although under-seat space is limited and seat pitch is TIGHT.

    I haven’t flown coach in a Boeing 747 since JAL retired theirs. I never had a problem, but JAL was not running 100% load factors in those days, and, because I’m a big guy, they would try very hard to block a seat open next to me. AA, on the other hand, has been running 100% load factors on a routine basis for quite a while now, with no end in sight. I was really looking forward to the day when they retired their Super 80 fleet, and replaced them with 737s.

    I haven’t flown the 787 yet.

    I avoid Regional Jets (RJ-145, CRJ-700) like the plague. RJ-145 has nowhere near sufficient space.

    I cannot comment on Airbus. “If it ain’t Boeing, I ain’t going.”