Reader Tom K. asks:
The US Airways landing in the Hudson was amazing. Thank God (and the captain) for such a great outcome. I’m curious, what happens to the luggage that people left behind? I assume they’re not getting any of it back. What’s the compensation they receive for it?
I suppose that luggage is not at the top of your list if you’ve survived a crash. But perhaps, once the euphoria of survival wears off, passengers’ thoughts will turn to the stuff they left behind, both in the overhead bins and the cargo hold. The answers are in the contract of carriage (PDF), the rules governing the ticket.
The contract states the limits of the airline’s liability. From the contract:
Total liability for provable direct or consequential damages resulting from the loss, delay, or damage to baggage in US Airways’ custody is limited as follows:
A. for travel wholly between U.S. points, to $3300 per customer
B. for most international travel (including domestic portions of international journeys), to $9.07 per pound ($20 per kilo) for checked baggage and $400 per customer for unchecked baggage in the custody/control of the carrier.
Since this was a domestic flight, the “A” rules will likely apply to most passengers — $3300 per passenger maximum. That’s not a guaranteed payout (though, under the circumstances, the airline might just go ahead and cut checks in that amount…) Internationally-connecting passengers would be subject to “B.”
That’s not the end of the rules:
Unless protection is purchased (excess valuation), US Airways assumes no liability for valuable/commercial items including but not limited to: money, negotiable papers, securities, irreplaceable business documents, books, manuscripts, publications, photographic or electronic equipment, musical instruments, jewelry, silverware, precious metals, furs, antiques, artifacts, paintings and other works of art, lifesaving medication, and samples.
Only a travel insurance policy might cover such losses. Might. The credit card used to purchase the ticket may have some coverage, too.
And passengers had better file their claims soon, or they’ll get nothing:
No action shall be maintained for any loss, damage, or delay of checked baggage, unless notice is given in writing to the airlines involved within 45 days (21 days international) from the date of incident and unless the action is commenced within two years from the date of the incident.
These rules in this example apply to US Airways only. Each airline publishes its own rules, so check the contract.
Here’s hoping that this question remains purely academic — and no accidents are in your future.