Lawyers Challenge Airlines over Lost Luggage

If an airline misplaces bags you’ve paid to check in, are you due a refund?

An increasing number of cases are being heard in the courts after airlines have lost or temporarily misplaced items of luggage that passengers have paid additional fees to check in. In such cases, since the aggrieved passengers have agreed to pay a separate fee for this service, they feel entitled at least to a refund. It’s the principal that counts, they argue. In one ongoing case in the United States, the lawyer describes the case in this way: “When the defendant began charging fees for baggage, it incurred the obligation to handle such baggage with care and ensure the timely delivery of the baggage to its passengers on arrival at their destination.

“Each time the defendant delays, damages or loses baggage, but fails to refund the baggage fee to the affected passenger, it breaches this obligation.” Another lawyer in a similar case says: “[The airline] has chosen to charge a fee to deliver a customer’s bag to a certain destination and, like most other airlines, it has reaped significant profits from this practice.

With that business decision, however, comes the obligation to either perform the service, as promised, or return the fee. “It’s bad enough that most airlines now charge fees to transport baggage, but [it’s] inexplicable for them to pocket the money when they fail to deliver this basic service.” Airlines don’t agree. Their case rests with the fact that they have not promised on-time baggage delivery. And they do not guarantee refunds if luggage is delayed.

Such lawsuits stand on poor legal ground, airlines argue. Rulings are expected soon in the first of these cases. If they are overturned in favour of the airlines, as is a distinct possibility, it could be the end of the matter, at least in the lawsuit-hungry United States. Whatever happens, only one thing seems clear – that legal rules in this grey area of airline services do not currently exist.

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