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We have all seen the news and Reddit threads of airlines damaging wheelchairs, wedding dresses, or the actual luggage itself. What can you do if an airline damaged your luggage? Most airlines have policies in place to deal with damaged luggage. The Department of Transportation also helps passengers understand the responsibilities airlines have if they damage luggage. In this article, we have included each major airline's policy for damaged luggage and what legal recourse you may have if your luggage was damaged by an airline.
An Airline’s Damaged Luggage Responsibility
The Department of Transportation (DOT) regulates domestic travel in the United States. Under their damaged baggage webpage you will find set regulations that airlines need to follow when handling passenger luggage. Additionally, DOT regulates international travel through relevant international treaties like the Warsaw Convention and the Montreal Convention.
Airlines are responsible for damage to your luggage if the damage occurred while the luggage was under the airline's control.
Airlines are responsible for either repairing or reimbursing a passenger for damaged baggage and/or its contents.
Airlines are not responsible for any pre-existing damage to packed items if you improperly packed them.
Airlines are not required to cover normal baggage wear and tear, however, airlines will be required to cover damage they caused to wheels, handles, straps, and other outer components of checked baggage.
If the airline decides to reimburse you instead of repair your baggage or the contents of your baggage, the airline needs to negotiate compensation.
Compensation is based on the bag's value and its depreciation, which means how much value the bag lost because of the damage. For example, if an airline damaged your 10-year-old luggage, they will pay you the current value of that luggage, based on the condition it is currently in, not based on the original price you paid for it.
For domestic flights, if an airline damages your bags, the maximum an airline will be responsible for is $3,800.00. Airlines may pay more than the limit but are not required to do so.
International flights are governed, for the most part, by a treaty called the Montreal Convention. However, there are a few situations where the Montreal Convention will not apply, instead, an older treaty called the Warsaw Convention may apply.
For most international flights, if an airline damages your bags on an international flight, the maximum an airline will be responsible for is approximately $1,780.00. As with domestic flights, airlines are free to pay more than the limit but are not required to do so.
An Airlines’s Liability is Limited for Certain Items
Airlines will not be liable for certain categories of items. For example, fragile items, electronics, cash, etc. You can find a list of exclusions listed in the airline’s “contracts of carriage” which have included for all the major airlines in this article. Note, airlines cannot exclude liability for damage to wheels, handles, straps, and other parts of checked baggage.
Additionally, for international travel (including domestic layovers), airlines may be responsible for these items if they have accepted them and are already transporting the item. This applies to undisclosed items when passengers checked in.
If you are worried about valuable items being damaged consider purchasing additional insurance if the airline you are traveling with has that option.
Special Rules for Damaged Assistive Devices
Assistive devices, which are defined as any piece of equipment that assists a passenger with a disability like a wheelchair, crutches, etc., are regulated differently:
For domestic flights, if an airline damages an assistive device, the airline is responsible for the original purchase price of the assistive device. For example, if an airline destroys a $20,000 wheelchair during a domestic flight, the airline is liable for $20,000 even if the wheelchair is 3 years old. If the airline merely damages the wheelchair, the airline may still be responsible for the full original purchase price even if the wheelchair is not a complete loss.
For international flights, if an airline damages an assistive device, the airline is responsible for the maximum liability limit set by the applicable international treaty. For example, under the Montreal Convention, the maximum limit is $1,780.00. There is an exception for flights regulated under the Warsaw Convention and a different limit may apply.
When a passenger’s assistive device must be disassembled for storage during a flight, the airline must return the assistive device in the same condition in which the airline accepted it. For example, if the airline damaged your wheelchair when stowing it away they will be required to repair the wheelchair so it is in the same pre-flight condition.
Consider Suing an Airline in Small Claims Court
What happens if you followed the procedures set out by the airline that caused your luggage to be damaged and it lead nowhere? Consider filing a lawsuit against the airline in small claims court.
Small claims courts handle a wide variety of property-related lawsuits which include lawsuits for damaged luggage by an airline.
What if I did not follow the airlines’ procedures, can I still file a small claims lawsuit?
Ultimately, it is up to the judge to decide whether you should have followed the airline procedures for damaged luggage or whether the airline procedures were fair.
If you would like to sue an airline in small claims court over damaged luggage, check out our article on how to sue an airline in small claims. You can also consider filing a complaint against the airline with the Department of Transportation.
List of Airline Policies for Damaged Luggage
Each airline has its own policy for damaged luggage. We have listed many of the major airline procedures for damaged luggage below. Additionally, beware that not all damage will be covered by an airline. Most limitations are listed on the airline’s website but if not you can find more information on what an airline will or will not take responsibility for in their contract/conditions of carriage (which we have linked for each airline).
If your baggage was damaged during an American Airlines flight follow the steps below to report the damage.
Report the damage at the Baggage Service Office in the airport or you can submit a claim online. For domestic flights, report the damage within 24 hours of receiving your bags. For international flights, you have 7 days from when you received the luggage to report the damage.
If you are seeking reimbursement for damaged belongings, fill out a Passenger Property Questionnaire. You’ll need the file reference number you received when you reported the damage to fill out the questionnaire.
If your baggage was inspected by Transportation Security Administration (TSA), you should have received a written notification inside or a seal on the outside of your bag. If you think the damage was caused by a TSA inspection, contact TSA at 866-289-9673.
To review American Airlines' liability limitations for damaged baggage, and what they will or won’t take responsibility for, use the link here. On this website, you will also find American Airlines' contract of carriage for further information on American Airlines’ liability for damaged luggage.
Delta Air Lines
If your baggage was damaged during a Delta flight, the best thing you can do is report it to a Delta Airlines Baggage Office right after your arrival. This is because Delta evaluates the damage in person at the Baggage Office. If you did not do this immediately upon your arrival you can still file a damaged bag form by following the steps below.
If your baggage was damaged during a Delta Airlines flight bring the baggage to the Baggage Office immediately upon your arrival or after.
Fill out a damaged bag form within 24 hours for travel in the United States, and within 7 days for international travel. You can fill out this form at the Baggage Office or online using the link here.
Delta assumes no liability for normal wear and tear or preexisting damage, including minor cuts, scratches, and broken zippers as a result of things like over-packing. See Delta Airlines’ contract of carriage for all the liability rules for baggage.
If the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) randomly searched your baggage, you should have found a written notification inside your baggage or a seal outside of your baggage. If you believe TSA damaged your baggage during the random inspection, contact them at (866)-289-9673.
Similar to other airlines, Southwest Airlines assumes no responsibility and will not be liable for damage arising from normal wear and tear of your baggage. This includes; cuts, scratches, scuffs, stains, dents, punctures, etc. However, Southwest Airlines will be liable for damage to protruding parts of baggage. This includes the wheels or security straps of your baggage.
Report damaged baggage within 4 hours of your arrival at your destination either in person at the Southwest Airlines Baggage Service Office (look around the baggage claim area or the ticket counter) or contact Southwest Airlines at (800)-435-9792.
For information on Southwest Airlines’ liability for damaged baggage review their contract of carriage.
If you realize your baggage is damaged after a United Airlines flight, you can file a claim with the airline. Below are the steps for filing a claim for damaged baggage with United Airlines. Also, United Airlines provides a visual guide on what to do if your baggage is damaged.
To report damaged baggage make sure the bag tags are still attached to the bags. At the airport, you can report damaged baggage to the airport Baggage Service Office, located near the baggage claim area. A United Airlines representative will examine your damaged baggage and you will receive a file number. Then you can complete a United Airlines baggage damage claim form.
For United-operated flights within or between the U.S., Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, damaged baggage must be viewed by and reported in person at the airport Baggage Service Office within 24 hours after your arrival to be eligible for repair or replacement.
For all international United Airlines flights, damaged baggage must be reported in writing or in person at the airport Baggage Service Office no later than 7 days after your arrival to be eligible for repair or replacement.
You can also contact the Baggage Resolution Service Center at (800)-335-2247 for more information about United Airlines’ damaged bag policy.
For information on United Airlines’ liability for damaged baggage review their contract of carriage.
If you flew on a JetBlue flight and landed at the airport only to notice your baggage was damaged, follow the steps below to report the damage to JetBlue.
If your baggage was damaged during a JetBlue flight, make a bag claim in one of the following ways:
If your bags have been damaged, it's important to make a bag claim with a JetBlue agent while you're at the airport.
You can make a claim outside of the airport by calling JetBlue Central Baggage Services at (866)538-5438 within 4 hours of landing.
To follow up on your bag claim follow the link provided in your emailed Bag Claim information, or call Central Baggage Services at (866)538-5438.
For information on JetBlue’s liability for damaged baggage review their contract of carriage.
After arriving at the airport did you realize that your baggage was damaged after your Alaska Airlines flight? Unfortunately, major airlines like Alaska Airlines have been dealing with a variety of baggage issues. Follow the steps below to report damaged baggage to Alaska Airlines.
Report the issue to be compensated for the damages at the baggage service office at the airport you arrived at within 24 hours.
For information on Alaska Airlines’ liability for damaged baggage download their contract of carriage using the link here in English or Spanish.
Due to staff shortages, technical problems with the baggage handling areas, and other airline industry situations travelers that fly Lufthansa have been experiencing damage to their baggage. If your baggage was damaged during a Lufthansa flight follow the steps below to report the damage.
You can report the damaged baggage at the Lufthansa baggage tracing counter at the airport, once reported you will be given a written confirmation as well as a reference number (PIR number).
You can also report the damage online using the link here. Make sure to report the damage within 7 days after your flight.
Note that you will need to provide some type of proof that the damage occurred while your bag was in the care of the Lufthansa. Additional limits on liability can be viewed in Lufthansa’s condition of carriage by going to the link here.
Frontier Airlines damaged baggage policy defines several methods available for passengers dealing with this issue. The most important thing for passengers to do is to report baggage problems to Frontier Airlines as soon as possible. Below we have included the steps to take to file a report.
At the airport, locate a Frontier representative to report damaged baggage within 4 hours of arriving at your destination.
Outside of the airport, you can report the damage to Frontier Airlines’ Central Baggage Office online using the link here.
Like other airlines, Frontier will not be liable for normal wear and tear. This includes scratches, small dents, rips, tears, and general grime and dirt. For more information on Frontier Airlines’ liability for damaged baggage use the link here to download their contract for carriage in Spanish or English.
If you flew Qatar Airways and arrive at your destination with damaged baggage there are steps to report the damage. Also, see Qatar Airways’ conditions of carriage for the applicable limits to their liability.
If you can, report the damaged baggage at the Qatar Airways Baggage Service Desk. Even if you report the damage at the airport you will still need to submit a written claim within 7 days after your arrival online using the link here.
Using the same link above you can also check the status of your damaged baggage.
If you accepted baggage without complaint Qatar Airways will treat this as if your baggage arrived in good condition. So make sure to report any damages as soon as possible.
If your baggage has been damaged in transit after an Emirates flight, you need to file a claim as soon as possible. Follow the steps below to file your claim with Emirates for baggage damage.
At the airport, you can file a claim with an Emirates representative or the baggage service desk.
Outside of the airport file a claim by contacting your local Emirates office in writing within 7 days after your arrival.
A Property Irregularity Report (PIR) reference number will be designated for your case. You can use your PIR reference number to check the status of your baggage.
For information on Emirates’ liability for damaged baggage download their conditions of carriage using the link here.
Legal Educator @ People Clerk. Claudia is a lawyer and certified mediator in New York and Florida. She has participated in dozens of small claims mediations in New York City courts