suitcases Reader mail: What happens to baggage after an airline accident?

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.

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6 Responses to “Reader mail: What happens to baggage after an airline accident?”

  1. g.twilley Says:

    Some homeowners insurance policies will also cover your personal possessions anywhere in the world – not that you would necessarily want to file a claim for personal property as such, but if you do then you could just let your insurance company wrangle with the airlines to get your money back.

    However (and as you stated), I kind of doubt that too many folks aboard that plane are worried about any of that…yet…

  2. Mark Ashley Says:

    Excellent point, g.twilley!

    It’s easy to forget that homeowner’s insurance policies can sometimes cover your material possessions outside of the home. Worth reading the fine print or calling the insurance rep/agent.

  3. David M Says:

    An AP article published today states that US has sent $5,000 checks to each passenger.

    http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5ipKRkY9XnWmqqvBNAlBju1taRJCQD95R1PLG0

  4. Mark Ashley Says:

    That’s good (and wise) of them to do so pre-emptively. And at a higher rate than promised in the contract. Thanks for catching this news item, David!

  5. Crikvenica Says:

    Interesting post, it’s something people probably don’t think about (or want to think about for that matter) before flying. It’s good to know that US Airways at least have some provisions in place.

  6. Burnelli Support Group Says:

    It is a miracle that there was no loss of life in this Airbus 320 crash. Most of it is attributed to the pilot’s skill and a whole lot of luck. Why is this said in every crash where the plane and or people survive mostly intact?

    Wouldn’t it be the ideal to have a plane that you expect to withstand a crash like this, one that wouldn’t break up in a hard, emergency crash landing on land or water or even in a simple runway overrun?

    Check this out. Google GB-888A and look at this design compared to standard of airliners today. The designer of this beautiful, safer, quieter, more fuel efficient, advanced design, Vincent Burnelli, built 9 planes previous to this design. ( http://www.aircrash.org/burnelli/chrono1.htm and designed more until his death in 1964 – http://www.aircrash.org/burnelli/chrono2.htm ) They all flew wonderfully. One crashed, nose down at 130mph, did a cartwheel and it was all caught on film. Check it out here: http://www.aircrash.org/burnelli/movies/ub14crash.mov All on board walked away, the cabin was completely intact and there was no fire.

    How can we continue to build planes where it is deemed a miracle if people survive the crash, if the plane holds together or if it doesn’t explode into flames. It should be the norm that “none” of these things happen, with fatalities or fire a rarity. This technology has been ignored long enough.

    Please support the movement to restore this plane design to its rightful place as the safest, most economical, most forward thinking design in the last 100 years of flight. The BWB that Boeing is working on has nothing on this more efficient design in cost to build, cost to fly, air fares or safety.

    Contact The Burnelli Company to see how you can support this effort. http://www.burnelli.com/Contact_Us.html

    See a flying model of the GB-888 here: http://aerodromedia.blogspot.com/

    Think safe, think simple, think green, think Burnelli.

    I’m workin’ on it.

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