On November 25, DOT’s Office of Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings issued a notice reminding U.S. and foreign carriers of their obligation to compensate passengers under DOT’s regulations and, in the case of international transportation, the Montreal Convention, for damage claims relating to luggage components such as wheels, straps, zippers, handles and protruding parts. According to DOT, a recent investigation revealed that U.S. and foreign carriers operating at 16 U.S. airports routinely refused to compensate passengers for damage claims involving specific parts of checked baggage, such as wheels, straps, zippers, handles, and protruding parts. DOT further alleges that certain carriers have posted notices disclaiming liability for damage to luggage components and have discouraged agents from accepting reports of damage to baggage.
Under DOT’s regulations governing damage to baggage transported on U.S. domestic flights, carriers may not impose arbitrary limits on their 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). For international flights governed by the Montreal Convention, carriers are liable for damaged or lost baggage if “the destruction, loss or damage” occurred while the checked baggage was within the custody of the carrier and, according to DOT, the Convention also prohibits lower limits on reimbursement for damage to baggage components.
In sum, DOT’s position is that its own regulations governing damage to bags in domestic transportation together with the Montreal Convention’s provisions on damage to baggage during international transportationeach prohibit carriers from refusing to compensate passengers when specific components of a traveler’s luggage are damaged but the passenger’s luggage has neither been lost or destroyed in its entirety.
In addition, DOT announced a new enforcement policy in the November 25 notice intended to address the alleged reluctance of U.S. and foreign carriers to fully compensate passengers for damaged luggage. Specifically, beginning January 9, 2016, DOT will treat any refusal by a carrier to accept a baggage damage claim as an unfair and deceptive trade practice violating 49 U.S.C. § 41712. Furthermore, DOT is placing carriers on notice that they must remove or modify any signage purporting to limit liability for damage to baggage wheels, straps, handles, and protruding parts by January 9.
If you have any questions, please contact Evelyn Sahr (firstname.lastname@example.org, 202-659-6622), Drew Derco (email@example.com, 202-659-6665), or Reese Davidson (firstname.lastname@example.org, 202-659-6633)