When Airlines Break Your Bags: Your Rights

A few years back, musician Dave Schneider boarded a Delta flight after checking his vintage Gibson guitar (estimated value $10,000). It broke. The airline initially balked at any kind of reimbursement but ultimately agreed to pay for repairs after the story went viral. [Don’t miss the video below.]

Best #LuggageFails – with pictures to prove it

Bags – Your Rights

What are your rights when airlines break your stuff? It varies on airlines around the world but there is a lot of useful information for everyone in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Consumer Fly-Rights guide.

Broken or Missing Bags

  • Lost bags: If a bag is lost, airlines will reimburse up to $3,500 per passenger according to Department of Transportation regulations. Learn more here. Note: Bags are rarely lost for good but airlines will reimburse you for such things as toiletries so save your receipts!
  • Damaged bags: Airlines will generally pay for repairs or possibly a new bag but do not leave the airport without reporting the damage.

Broken or Missing Valuables

Say your bag arrives and it’s in good shape but some of your valuables are missing or damaged.  A couple of things to know  before this happens.

  • What is a valuable? Where airlines are concerned, the term ‘valuables’ covers a lot of ground, everything from antlers to Bibles plus luxury goods like jewelry and furs but the description also includes mundane things like eye glasses, medications, documents, even cheap stuff like non-prescription sunglasses.
  • Do airlines replace valuables? Most airlines say they take no responsibility for damage or loss of valuables in checked-baggage and clearly state this in their contracts of carriage (which no one bothers to read but should because they’re filled with useful information). File a claim anyway; it never hurts to ask (look for ‘Contact us’ on the airline’s website).

5 Tips to Avoid Broken Stuff

1. Keep Valuables at Home or On Your Person

Air travel expert Rick Seaney has long counseled travelers to leave valuables at home but if you must fly with them, keep all valuables on your person. “Wear those diamond studs and hand-carry your iPad,” advises Seaney.

2. Pack Carefully

Don’t toss valuables in suitcases and expect your clothes to protect them. Use bubble-wrap or similar protective covering. If you must pack something especially delicate – like an expensive guitar – experts say use plenty of padding and place the instrument in a hard shell case (then wrap a belt around the case to prevent it from popping open unexpectedly).

3. Ship Ahead

Shipping may be more expensive than a checked-baggage fee but do you worry about the stuff you send via UPS or FedEx? Be sure to ensure the package for full value.

4. Check Your Valuables Upon Arrival

Before you leave the airport: If you packed something special in your luggage, open it as soon as you retrieve the bag to be sure it’s in good condition before you walk out the door. If you don’t, the airline will likely point out the damage could have occured on the drive home or any time after the flight. If you do find damage, go to the baggage claim office and fill out a form immediately. Take pictures, too.

5. The Social Media Solution

What is it with guitars? Dave Carroll’s was broken by United back in 2009 and he too got no satisfaction from the airline until he posted a music video about the incident (see below). Suddenly, Carroll had United’s full attention!

You don’t have to be quite so creative but by all means, tell your airline about your problem on Twitter or Facebook (or both). Chances are good you’ll get a response; you might even get complete satisfaction. But please, leave the good jewelry at home.

VIDEO: The sad saga of a broken guitar.


Updated: March 21, 2016