If you fly frequently, the day will come when your suitcase slides down the baggage claim ramp in worse shape than it was at check-in. Your airline has developed policies and procedures for you to use when filing a claim for damaged luggage.
Before Your Trip
Know Your Rights and Restrictions
Every airline has a baggage policy that states which types of baggage damage the airline will pay for and which items are excluded from repair or reimbursement offers. The International Monetary Fund's Montreal Convention governs reimbursement amounts for baggage damaged on international flights.
Consider Travel Insurance
If you plan to check expensive luggage or must carry high-value items in your checked baggage, travel insurance that includes baggage loss coverage can help you minimize losses if your bags are damaged during your flight.
Check your renter's or homeowner's insurance policy to see whether it includes coverage for damage to luggage and its contents.
Airlines sometimes offer excess valuation coverage to passengers who must pack high-value items in their checked baggage. See your airline's website for details.
Read Your Contract of Carriage
Your airline's contract of carriage states which types of baggage damage are eligible for compensation. Read this document. Your airline will not pay for damage to extendable suitcase handles, suitcase wheels, suitcase feet, or zippers, nor will it repair scuffs or tears. Airlines consider these problems to be normal wear and tear, and you will not be compensated for them except on a case-by-case basis.
Before your trip begins, be sure you understand the claims process, especially the time limit for filing a damage claim. If you fail to comply with this time limit, you will not be compensated for damage to your bag or its contents.
Your contract of carriage also identifies which packed items are ineligible for reimbursement, whether they are lost, stolen or damaged during your trip. Depending on the airline, this list could include jewelry, cameras, prescription medications, sports equipment, computers, artwork and other items. Consider hand-carrying or shipping some of these items via an insured carrier.
Understand the Montreal Convention
Liability for baggage damaged on international flights is regulated through the International Monetary Fund's Montreal Convention, which sets airlines' per-passenger liability limit at 1,131 Special Drawing Rights units, or SDRs. The value of SDRs fluctuates each day; as of this writing, 1,131 SDRs equals $1,572. You can check the current SDR value at the International Monetary Fund's website. Some countries have not ratified the Montreal Convention, but the United States, Canada, European Union member nations and many other countries have done so.
Take Photographs and Make a Packing List
Filing a claim will be difficult if you do not know what you packed. Packing lists help you stay organized and serve as documentation. If you have receipts for the items you packed, particularly for high-value items, bring copies with you to substantiate a potential damage claim. Airlines typically depreciate the value of items claimed, based on purchase date. Any documentation you can provide that establishes an item's original cost and purchase date will be useful.
Even better, take photographs of all the items you plan to pack. Photograph your suitcases, too.
No airline will compensate you for baggage damage if you jam too many items into one suitcase. Contracts of carriage generally exclude damage to overstuffed luggage or to items packed in unsuitable bags, such as flimsy shopping bags. Airlines seldom compensate passengers for zipper damage, so there is no reason to shove too many articles into your suitcase.
If Your Baggage Is Damaged
File Your Claim Before Leaving the Airport
In nearly all cases, you should file your claim before you leave the airport. This will give the airline's representative a chance to inspect the damage and look at your boarding pass and baggage claim ticket. Include your flight information and a detailed description of the damage to your bag and its contents on your airline's claim form.
Some air carriers, such as Southwest Airlines, require that you file your damage claim within four hours of landing at the airport, but all require you to file your claim within 24 hours of landing for domestic flights and within seven days for international flights.
File With a Smile
Do your best to stay calm and speak politely when you file your claim. You will get much better service from your airline's representative and you will be more persuasive when asking for repairs or compensation.
Get Copies of Forms
Do not leave the airport without a copy of your claim form, the name of the airline representative who helped you with the form and a telephone number for follow-up inquiries. Documentation is critical. This form is the only record you have of your claim.
If you do not hear back from your airline in two or three days, call the airline's claims office. Ask about repairs to your luggage and compensation for your damaged belongings. If you do not receive a satisfactory response, speak with a supervisor. Should the supervisor dismiss your concerns, speak with managers and try to contact claim representatives via Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets. If extensive follow-up is needed, use email so you can save it as documentation.
As long as your claim is valid, you have every right to expect that your airline will pay for damage to your bag and its contents. Be polite and persistent, document your claim and keep records of every conversation and email exchange you have with your airline. Escalate your claim if necessary, and continue to insist on repairs to your damaged bag.