Consumer Law

Airline May Be Left Holding the Lawsuit Bag

Millions of people fly each year, meaning millions of pieces of luggage are flying too. Unfortunately, passengers and their bags don't always end up in the same place at the same time. Vacations and business trips are ruined fast. What can you do?

Stand Up

Hold the airlines accountable for their mistakes. If you can't come to a friendly agreement, think about filing a lawsuit.


On their way to Italy for a cruise, two Delta passengers had to make a change in travel plans when their connecting flight in New York was oversold. They were assured several times their luggage would make the trip with them.

Unfortunately, they made it to Italy, but the bags didn't until over five days into the cruise. They spent five days of a seven-day cruise looking for basic necessities and clothes - not enjoying the cruise.

According to one passenger, Delta's effort to "make good" on the debacle ($300 in ticket vouchers) wasn't good enough, so they filed a lawsuit. They won - $2,000 apiece, and Delta paid the court costs!

How it Worked

The passengers' suit was based on negligence - the airline didn't do something it was legally obligated to do and the passengers were harmed by it.

They also claimed negligent misrepresentation - airline staff said the luggage was on the passengers' plane when they knew, or should have known, otherwise. Apparently, it was the misrepresentation claim that came back to bite Delta.


American Airlines lost passenger Danielle Covarrubias' bag on her flight from Washington to Michigan. She waited a day for the bag with its $800 worth of her belongings; it never came. The airline said it was lost and it couldn't do anything for her.

She eventually bought over $300 worth of clothes and necessities.

Things got worse when the airline refused her request to refund her $25 baggage fee. She filed a $5 million class action lawsuit. The suit is pending as of early November 2010.

Will it Work?

It's got a good chance. The suit's basic idea is that the airline breached its contract with the passenger. It charged, and she paid, $25 for the safe handling of her luggage and delivery to her destination. She didn't get what she paid for, and she didn't get a refund.

Protect Your Luggage

Millions of bags are misplaced each year. There are some things you can do to help make sure you and your luggage make to the same place at the same time. Or, if not that, to help pay for replacing what's lost. For instance:

  • When possible, use carry-on bags and avoid checking luggage altogether
  • Make sure your checked bags are properly labeled with you name, etc., so other passengers don't mistake them for theirs
  • Take direct flights when possible. When you have to change planes, so does your luggage, increasing the risks of lost bags
  • Buy travel insurance and make sure it covers lost luggage in an amount you need. If it doesn't, look into separate excess valuation insurance coverage

If your luggage is lost, try to stay calm and take these steps:

  • Talk to airline staff immediately for information about filing a claim for lost luggage. Each airline has its own policy
  • Keep receipts for anything you need to buy - clothes, toiletries, etc.
  • Be reasonable when asking for compensation from the airline for the inconvenience. The airline should be reasonable, too. It could have prevented the lawsuits we talked about here
  • File a complaint with the US Department of Transportation
  • Contact a lawyer if you're unable to resolve the problem in a way that's fair to everyone

Traveling is much easier and more enjoyable when you don't have to worry about your luggage. Some pre-flight precautions can make for a smooth landing for you and your luggage.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • How can I prove what was in my lost luggage and what it was worth?
  • What happens if my luggage is found and returned to me after my travelers or other insurance paid me for the loss?
  • Is travelers or other luggage-related insurance tax deductible? Do I have to claim insurance payments on my income taxes?
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