Lost Bag: Reimbursed for Expenses?

October 23, 2012
Fares from Washington DC:

    Q. I paid a baggage fee on United. The bag did not make it to my destination in time for an important job interview. The airline said they would deliver the bag the next day. I had to buy a replacement suit plus a shirt and tie for the interview for $400. I tried to contact them to find out when I could expect my bag and could not find a way to talk to a human being. I kept getting a recording that said they were still working to locate my bag, which finally arrived around 10 p.m. the next day. I have since tried to contact the airline to inquire about at least being reimbursed for the bag fee and cost of the interview suit, but still have not been able to speak to a real person. Should the airline reimburse this fee and my expenses, and shouldn't there be a way to contact them?

    A. First of all, honestly, I’m not giving United a free pass here, but assuming it was an important interview, and the interview was to be held the day you arrived, why on Earth didn’t you wear the suit on the plane? Why take a chance like that? Second, there’s no government regulation requiring airlines to refund bag fees if a bag is delayed (there should be one, but so far they’re only required by the D.O.T. to refund if the bag is lost). However, the D.O.T. does require airlines to reimburse passengers for reasonable expenses to replace essential items even when a bag is merely delayed. You will have to pursue United through their customer service, providing a receipt for your suit, shirt and tie, and may even have to take them to small claims court if they do not respond. As for your bag fee, if you paid by credit card (and I’m guessing you did), you should try challenging the charge, in writing, with your issuing bank, under the Federal Fair Billing Credit Act, since you paid for but did not receive the product you paid for (i.e., timely delivery of your bag). At the very least, that will send United a message. You can contact United using this online form or write P.O. Box 66140, Chicago, IL 60666-0140; or telephone: (800) 221-6903. Be concise, polite, put everything in writing, and insist that all responses to your communications are also in writing, not verbal.