Thursday, March 2, 2017

How I Got Southwest Airlines To Pay For Luggage Damage

On a recent trip to New Orleans, Southwest Airlines (SWA) destroyed my luggage. Prior to that, SWA has a great track record with me and my traveling companions. (Side note: their priority boarding is totally worth the extra $$.)

On this particular trip, I discovered a HUGE crack down nearly the entire length of my hardside suitcase. I did a quick search on the SWA website from my phone to find out their policy for reporting damage. What I found was you have 4 hours to report the damage in person at the baggage claim office. I did just that. The “service” from the baggage claim office was anything but that.

The first rep told me they couldn’t help me because they no longer pay for damage to your luggage. I asked for a supervisor (a second opinion of sorts) just to see if I could get a different answer and have another set of eyes look at my broken valise. She essentially confirmed that they were not going to help me and told me “it was going to break anyway, it was just  a matter of when.”

Despite my urging them to put something – anything – into their system as proof of me following their policy, they wouldn’t and ushered me out the door. Thanks for flying Southwest, eh? Hmm….so I decided to get on Twitter.  I posted pics and further provided time-stamped proof of my visit and my complaint.

It’s broken bad, almost like it got pinched or nearly bent in half making its way to my destination. I literally thought that my underwear was going to come flying out of the bag any moment. So, after holding up my party for nearly 30 minutes, we Ubered to the hotel and got settled in. Being proactive for the trip home, I walked all over NOLA trying to find something to hold my suitcase together on the plane. It was too big for me to carry-on, so once again, I would be at the mercy of SWA baggage handlers.

I finally found some duct tape and put Humpty Dumpty back together again.

When I got back home, I downloaded their claim form, filled it out complete with pics and receipts and sent it off to them hoping that someone would see this was clearly their fault and offer to replace it.

That’s not what happened.

I promptly got a denial letter back stating that since I didn’t report the damage within 4 hours to the baggage claim office that they “cannot accept liability for property that has been out of our care and custody for 11 days prior to reporting damage.” Well, that made my head hot! So, I decided to dig a little deeper into my research. I hit up GOOGLE and tried to find blog posts or message boards with stories of anyone who’d had success getting reimbursed for property damage. I found nothing but stories of the horrors of dealing with uncaring airline personnel – until I found this.

There was a notice sent out to the airlines from the US Department of Transportation (Office of the Secretary) around December 2015. The actual document can be found here:
The notice, in so many words, is a warning to airlines to revise their policies regarding damage to consumers checked baggage. It states that in many instances “carriers often post signs indicating they categorically refuse to compensate passengers” for damage and “also discouraged or refused to accept reports of such damage.” Finally, I found something that I could use to my advantage. And I did.

I printed out the notice and attached it with my rebuttal to my denial letter. I also decided to locate the organizational chart for SWA and CC some of the powers-that-be on my rebuttal just to make sure my voice was heard. For your entertainment, I’ve copied/pasted the letter below.  

This letter is in response to your reply regarding my recent luggage damage claim.

To your point of denying my claim based on the fact that you say I didn’t report it within the specified timeline:

I did, in fact, go to the Southwest baggage claim office at MSY airport immediately after getting my luggage from the carousel and seeing the damage. After a quick Google search, I read that the policy was to report that damage within four hours of the flight and I did just that. Unfortunately, the two claims employees there would not produce any sort of paperwork or input anything on my behalf into the computer system to log my visit, despite my urging. They said there was “nothing they could do for me” and to “have a good day” as they ushered me out of the office leaving me bewildered and disappointed. In my attempt to file my claim, I held up my travel party for more than 30 minutes. So, I also have a handful of other people willing to support my statements. Also, I encourage you to look at the video footage to verify my visit there. You’ve already got the flight info and times, as I listed that on my claim. If you need a photo of me for comparison, please do not hesitate to ask.

I have attached, for your reference, the NOTICE REGARDING DAMAGE TO CHECKED BAGGAGE issued by the United States of America Department of Transportation from the Office of the Secretary, Washington DC and highlighted the responsibilities laid forth by the Office of Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings regarding damage to luggage and the fact that Carriers and their agents’ refusals to accept damage reports by passengers. It also says that carriers should be prepared to reimburse the passenger appropriately. I know my rights and will pursue those rights to the fullest.

FYI - I had just purchased that suitcase only months before, and was traveling with it for the first time. On its maiden voyage, your airlines destroyed it – on my outgoing trip. I not only had to suffer the loss of my new luggage, I also had to run all over New Orleans trying to find something to just might hold it together long enough to get back home. The suitcase can never travel again, as it is literally split in two on one side – jeopardizing the safe transport of all things enclosed.

I have used Southwest Airlines as my carrier of choice for over 20 years now and have been happy with the airline and level of service. This was the annual “girl’s trip” to New Orleans that we’ve done now for 15 years. My entire group of friends has used Southwest for years and collectively, we have spent thousands of dollars traveling with your company.

You see, Southwest Airlines is supposed to be different from those other guys. You even have a heart as part of your logo, indicative of the love and care you have for your passengers. I have entrusted you with not only my life and the lives of my family, but also with all of our belongings. But now, you have lost my trust. You have said to me that you will take no responsibility for damaging my property. In the real world, if you break it, you buy it. So if you don’t mind, I’d like to mail you my broken suitcase so it can be a constant reminder of your failure as an airline, and your failure to do right by your travel guests. 

As an alternate choice, I know from the news that Southwest just had a record year and awarded its employees handsomely ($586 million dollars in profit sharing!), someone could pay replace my luggage with part of their bonus. Just a thought. I guess that might be how the airline is so profitable – by not paying for claims related to their negligence.

I have a choice when it comes to who I use for air transportation. And, if this request goes south and doesn’t provide the outcome that is right and just, I will have no choice but to give my hard earned money to another airline. It is not okay for you to destroy something and then take absolutely no responsibility for it.

As you read this, please know that I’ve CC’d some key players in your organization as well as provided them with your information. I apologize in advance if you are contacted regarding this issue, but it feels like the right course of action. I hope your decision will be adjusted and you will do the right thing as a company.

So, long story even longer, I finally got a call from a lady at SWA who apologized profusely for the way I’d been treated and the way my claim was handled. She offered to reimburse me for the luggage and I accepted.  I told her that all I ever wanted was to be heard and to be valued as a passenger.

Don’t let up on an airline if you truly feel that they should be liable for the damage. I’ll admit, my suitcase didn’t cost a great deal of money. It wasn’t really about the money. It was principle. I was denied twice, but I persevered. Make sure you follow their posted procedures, take photos and get on social media and timestamp your complaint. If you can record your interaction with any representatives, that would support your claim.

I know this was an especially long post by me, but I hope this helps anyone who may have to deal with a property damage claim due to mishandling or equipment. You have rights, believe it or not, and it’s about time we call out the airlines for it!

Peace out and travel on!

No comments:

Post a Comment