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Damage to Wheels, Handles and Other Components of Checked Baggage

 


Damage to Wheels, Handles and Other Components of Checked Baggage

Issued November 25, 2015

Notice Regarding Damage to Wheels, Handles and Other Components of Checked Baggage

In September 2015, the Office of Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings conducted extensive inspections of US and foreign air carriers’ operations at 16 US airports. The Enforcement Office found, among other things, that carriers routinely exclude from liability damage to specific parts of checked baggage, such as wheels, straps, zippers, handles, and protruding parts. Carriers often post signs indicating that they categorically refuse to compensate passengers for such items. In some instances, carrier agents also discouraged or refused to accept reports of such damage.

We remind carriers and the public that for domestic transportation, “an air carrier shall not limit its liability for provable direct or consequential damages resulting from the disappearance of, or damage to, or delay in delivery of a passenger’s personal property, including baggage, in its custody to an amount less than $3,500 for each passenger.” 14 CFR 254.4. The Enforcement Office has long interpreted this section as precluding any lower arbitrary limits on the amount of reimbursement for damages resulting from carrier actions. The Montreal Convention, applicable to international transportation, also prohibits lower limits on reimbursement for such damages. Imposing an arbitrary limit on losses within the carrier’s control constitutes a violation of Part 254 and the Montreal Convention, and is an unfair practice under 49 USC § 41712.

The Enforcement Office considers categorical exclusions for damage to specific parts of the checked baggage to be arbitrary limitations of liability in violation of Part 254. Although carriers are not required to cover fair wear and tear, damage to handles, straps, wheels and zippers often extends beyond what is appropriately categorized as fair wear and tear resulting from ordinary handling of baggage. In such cases, carriers should be prepared to reimburse the passenger appropriately.

In addition to categorically disclaiming liability for certain damage, certain carriers are inappropriately refusing to accept claims or reports of such damage. To avoid an unfair practice of categorically disclaiming liability without proper investigation, all reports of mishandled baggage should be accepted for review, regardless of whether the carrier’s agent believes that the claim will result in reimbursement. The Enforcement Office finds that failure to accept such reports constitutes an unfair and deceptive practice in violation of 49 USC § 41712. Therefore, carriers should not discourage reports or refuse to accept claims for mishandled baggage on the basis that the underlying claim is not reimbursable.

Carriers should immediately review and revise their baggage policies, including their signage reflecting those policies, to ensure compliance with Part 254, the Montreal Convention, and section 234.6 (for carriers subject to that reporting requirement). Recognizing the time and effort that it will take to make these changes, the Enforcement Office will provide carriers 45 days from the date of this notice to ensure that signage and policies are in compliance before instituting enforcement action related to the issues covered in this notice.

By: Blane Workie


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