Not giving up

Leaving on a backpacking tour of Africa in June 2012

Two months ago, after flying in to the USA from Malawi , I discovered that my backpack, with all my belongings for six months of travel, had been lost (see photo inset). My subsequent experience in dealing with the airline’s delayed baggage team was extremely disappointing: my bag wasn’t found, I didn’t feel like they tried hard enough and I was told to submit a claim for compensation which under international conventions will probably give me a fraction of the value of the property I lost.

From an early age my father always taught me to fight for what I think is right and not to let anyone take advantage of me. Why should that be any different with a large company? So I decided to go right to the top with my problem and try to achieve an outcome that seems fair for all concerned: reimbursement for my out-of-pocket expenses and a reasonable compensation for the value of the items lost.

In a letter I wrote to senior management, I detail my experience and request the airline to provide fair and reasonable compensation for my lost belongings. The normal claims process has so far proven to be bureaucratic, slow-moving and ineffective, which is why I am trying to circumvent it.

Will update here if and when I hear back from them. And until I do, the airline will remain unnamed . (But feel free to guess which one it is.) :)

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27 December 2012

RE:  DELAYED BAGGAGE REPORT, FILE REFERENCE #XXXXX

Dear X, Y and Z:

I write to request your kind assistance in resolving a recent issue with your airline in respect of my lost luggage.

Following a recent flight from Malawi to North Carolina, one of two checked pieces of baggage on my [airline name removed] flight did not arrive to Washington DC and could not be found. The local airline representative said FAA regulations require me to submit a claim at my final destination (Raleigh, North Carolina) and that [the airline responsible for my final flight] was responsible for handling my case. I followed the instructions.

The last time I saw my backpack – at Lilongwe Airport in October 2012. :(

During the following two weeks, [the second airline] advised that as a [frequent flyer], I would receive priority treatment and regular updates. I also mentioned that I was in the middle of a period of six months of continuous travel in Africa and South America and that the bag contained extra medication for diabetes, clothing for my work and travel accessories, much of which is difficult to replace. Consequently, I was worried about being prepared for my onward travels and relieved that I could take advantage of my frequent flier status.

Unfortunately, the promised help never materialized –

First, I was told on various occasions that the success of [the second airline’s] efforts were dependent on receiving a status report from [the first airline]. Upon further inquiry seven days after the loss of my luggage, I discovered that only a single email had so far been sent to [the first airline] and no response had yet been received, suggesting to me that my case was not being followed with priority attention.

Second, I was initially told that [the second airline] would either email or phone me daily to keep me updated. However, I never received any such communication and was thus required to regularly check in myself. I was also frustrated that your Bag Tracing website always showed the same message that baggage tracing efforts were “still in progress” and to check back later.

Then, when I complained, I was advised to submit an official baggage claim to accelerate the process and initiate a trace in “lost bag” warehouses around the USA. This seems like looking for a needle in a haystack – hardly more effective or efficient than simply getting on the phone with [the first airline]!

Frustrated by this response, I contacted the baggage handling team at Lilongwe Airport in Malawi and made other calls until I spoke directly to a baggage representative [from the first airline]. It took me only 60 minutes of persistence to learn that records showed my baggage was loaded on to the plane in Lilongwe but was not received in [the first airline’s hub].

I understand that under international conventions airlines are limited in their liability for lost bags. However, in my case it is clear that an inadequate and unsatisfactory effort was made to locate my luggage and much more could have been done to expedite the process within the small window of time that was available to contact [the first airline] and locate my bag. I communicated my dissatisfaction several times and still, nothing was done about it.

Over the last several years, I have been a frequent and loyal domestic and international flyer with [the second airline] and [their worldwide partner network] and feel that I have been wronged by the loss of my luggage and subsequent attempts to assist me with this loss. The efforts by your delayed baggage team were far below what was promised and what should be provided in good faith when an airline (or its partner airline) loses a passenger’s baggage. This is disappointing in comparison to my prior satisfactory travel experiences with [the second airline] and is hardly consistent with the customer service message outlined by your CEO [name removed] in one of your in-flight videos “Doing what you say you’re going to do”: [link removed].

My career is focused on providing consulting services to firms and governments in developing countries. It is a profession that has required and will continue to require me to travel extensively. I would hope that you regard me as a valued customer offering the potential for recurring business, and one who can continue speaking positively about my travel experiences with [the second airline]

My lost luggage has an estimated value of $2007.00. Interim expenses to replace some of these lost items have so far amounted to $730.52. I am requesting total compensation of the amount lost which equals to $2007. The attached sheets detail these amounts. In keeping my request reasonable, I have not accounted for time spent/lost and transportation expense incurred in shopping for replacement items.

As I have been traveling in remote parts of South America and then on a cruise ship in Antarctica until just days before the Christmas holiday, this is the first opportunity I have had to contact you in this form. I apologize for the delay.

Please feel free to contact me should you have any questions or wish to discuss further.

Sincerely,

Ryan Rowe
Lilongwe, Malawi

Attachments:

(1)    Boarding passes and baggage tags
(2)    Itemized list of lost belongings
(3)    Itemized list of interim expenses

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