Busted Baggage: Who's to Blame?

January 24, 2012
Fares from Washington DC:

    Q. In November, I flew Kingfisher Airlines from Varanasi to Delhi. When I picked up my suitcase, both handles were ripped off at one end, and a wheel housing was shattered.  They first offered me $6 to repair it. Their final offer was $10. Dr. Vijay Mallya, chairman of Kingfisher, says if the airline has “fallen short of meeting your expectations”, to contact him directly, and he gives his email address. So, I emailed him about this matter. I got a response from someone in “Guest Commitment” that said they considered this normal wear and tear, but as a gesture they had compensated me for it. He also said that despite my “present sentiments” he hoped I would view this as an “aberration”, and give them another chance. What can you do when this kind of thing happens in a foreign country, with a foreign airline?



    A. There really isn't much you can do, whether it's a foreign country or not. Here's a little secret: on most types of jet aircraft, airline baggage handlers, in order to load bags quickly, really do throw your bags into and down the length of the cargo hold. They don't carry them or coddle them or pay attention to the "fragile" stickers. So wheels and handles do get damaged; in fact, they're the most likely parts of your suitcase to break. As such, airlines, even though they shouldn't, call this normal wear and tear. (By the way, a 4-wheeled "spinner" suitcase is less likely to get damaged because it's easier for the bag handlers to roll it down the cargo hold rather than to throw it.) Whatever. One defense is to buy a quality suitcase. Or one with an iron clad guarantee. Briggs and Riley, uniquely as far as I know, will repair your suitcase for free, wheels, handles, and all, for the life of the bag, whether or not an overzealous airline employee was at fault. The other solution is not to check bags in the first place and whenever possible send your belongings in a sturdy cardboard box ahead of your arrival, via FedEx Ground, UPS or the post office.

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