Unrefunded $25 Checked Bag Fee Turns Into $5 Million Lawsuit For American Airlines

American Airlines was the first of the major airlines to start tacking on fees for checked bags, and now its the first airline to face a class action lawsuit over the fees from a ticked-off passenger. And it all started over one piece of lost luggage.

The initial plaintiff in the case was a passenger on an American flight from Seattle to Grand Rapids, MI, earlier this year. Unfortunately, it looks like the one bag she paid $25 to check before boarding didn’t make the flight.

According to the suit, the plaintiff was forced to spend $300 on replacement clothes and toiletries that had gone missing with her bag, which she claims contained more than $800 worth of her stuff. And when it became clear to her that her bag had disappeared forever, she claims American would not refund her request to refund the $25 checked bag fee.

Says the plaintiff:

American Airlines is just another example of how companies have forgotten about customer service… When American charges a fee for a baggage service it should deliver your bag, unharmed, or give you a refund.

The lawsuit says that when airlines charge you extra to check your bags, those fees represent a “clear and unambiguous agreement with passengers to handle bags with care, and deliver them to their destination in a timely fashion.”

American Airlines damages, loses or delays more than 2,400 pieces of luggage every day, according to documents filed with the court.

Of note, the one airline that doesn’t charge for your first checked bag, Southwest Airlines, led all U.S. airlines with the highest number of lost bags last year.

American Airlines Sued for $5M After Refusing $25 Lost Bag Refund [ABC News via Jaunted.com]

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  1. slim150 says:

    “Southwest Airlines, led all U.S. airlines with the highest number of lost bags last year.”

    I’m sure thats normalized to account for volume.. right?

    • Southern says:

      I wonder how many are “lost” and how many are “Stolen”..

      I don’t fly often, but if I did, I’d be damn tempted to put a GPS Tracker in my suitcase, sewn into the lining or something to help prevent detection, and if my luggage disappeared I’d damn sure want to know where it “went”..

      • Alvis says:

        I’m sure security will love finding electronic transponders hidden in luggage.

        • RevancheRM says:

          Think they’d find it if they were distracted by other otherwise ‘free’ electronics or jewelry?

      • Red Cat Linux says:

        Feh – I’m fairly sure your baggage is cut open, empty, in the bottom of a dumpster and your goodies are all elsewhere. Until we start Lo-Jacking everything, just doing the luggage only finds it if the thief hasn’t ditched the bag or it honestly just got misplaced.

    • NeverLetMeDown says:

      Nope. Per the Dept of Transportation, in May, the six worst in a per-passenger basis were regionals (i.e. American Eagle, Comair, etc.), and Southwest was right about in the middle, better than Delta and American, worse than United, Continental, and US Airways.

      http://airconsumer.dot.gov/reports/2010/July/2010JulyATCR.PDF

      See page 29 of the pdf.

      • colinnwn says:

        That statistic is for mishandled bags, not for lost bags. A lost bag is not found within a certain number of days. I can’t remember the number the airline industry typically uses. Mishandled bags mean the bag was delayed (even for just one flight) or damaged, or most rarely lost.

      • colinnwn says:

        That statistic is for mishandled bags, not for lost bags. A lost bag is not found within a certain number of days. I can’t remember the number the airline industry typically uses. Mishandled bags mean the bag was delayed (even for just one flight) or damaged, or most rarely lost.

  2. dragonfire81 says:

    I don’t care how pissed you are a company failed to do something, $5 million is TOTALLY UNREASONABLE! We are talking about a $25 charge here. $1000 at most is what I think is realistic.

    • Binaryslyder says:

      Clearly you never met Judge Fancypants

    • Raekwon says:

      Actually if she lost $800 of stuff, paid $300 for new stuff and paid $25 for a bag fee $1000 doesn’t even cover that. If you mean $1000 for damages on top of the values I already listed then I can see that as reasonable.

      • dragonfire81 says:

        Yes that’s what I meant, I should have clarified. I realize this is a class action and I supposed the determination on whether the amount sought was reasonable would depend on the size of the class. If it was 20 people, then yes $5 million is way too much. 2000 people? Now $5 million seems more realistic.

        What gets me is I don’t think class actions do much good for the consumer in the long run, the layers get the lions share of the fees and the customers get maybe a $15 voucher or something. The companies get slapped with a fine and cross their hearts and swear they’ll stop doing whatever it is that got them sued but instead either continue to do it anyway or find other crafty methods to suck money out of people.

        • jamar0303 says:

          Have you considered that they only get “$15 vouchers or something” because they are hampered by a low definition of “reasonable” such as the one you present?

      • Wrathernaut says:

        If she lost $300 worth of stuff, and spent $300 to replace it, they owe her $300, not $600.

        • NatalieErin says:

          From the article: “the plaintiff was forced to spend $300 on replacement clothes and toiletries that had gone missing with her bag, which she claims contained more than $800 worth of her stuff.”

          She lost $800 worth of stuff. Of that $800, she had to spend $300 right away for things she needed on her trip.

    • legwork says:

      The argument could be made that $1000 isn’t even a measurable cost of doing business while $5m may be a behavior changer.

      • Billy says:

        Those are called punitive damages and it would be extraordinary if that was the basis for the demand.

        The high dollar number is b/c it’s a class action.

      • fantomesq says:

        This is a case for breach of contract. Punitive damages are not available in contract except for exceptional situations, which this is not one of.

    • Dragon Tiger says:

      Well, except that it’s a class action suit filed on behalf of anyone who’s had a similar incident; after lawyers fees, they would all be paid from the leftover amount of the settlement/damages.

      • Buckus says:

        Or about 50 cents each.

        • hypochondriac says:

          You optimist, they will be given a voucher good for future air travel. Probably a voucher that allows you to check a bag for free. No in order to you that voucher you would have to give up the right to sue if the Airline if they lose that bag

    • SilverBlade2k says:

      I don’t think she’s after the money as a quick way for retirement. I think she wants to send a message to the airlines that if they charge a Checked Bag Fee, then the luggage should arrive at the destination without question – or, they should refund the money and reimburse for the items inside. Since the airline didn’t, she sued them.

      I don’t find it unreasonable, as a lawsuit in this amount is probably the only way to ensure the airlines to a better job at customer service.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      It’s all about the message, and about legal precedent.

      If she wins, AA and other airlines will have to change their policy, in favor of customers, for fear or future lawsuits. An airline doesn’t fear the occasion $300 lawsuit. They do care about $5 million lawsuits.

      • evilpete says:

        Also that high number got them into the media ( like the consumerist ) resulting in bad press for the airlines.

        Southern airlines care about

    • ubermex says:

      Uh, do you know what class action means?

    • tape says:

      Please learn to read the article before using CAPSWORD FAUX OUTRAGE.

    • crb042 says:

      it’s a class action suit. You find it all-caps-unreasonable that there might be 4,999 other people who also have a similar amount of loss?

      (plus, don’t class action suits generally include money to cover the legal fees involved?)

    • Bob says:

      I needed a good laugh today. Thank you!

    • dg says:

      $5 Million sounds about right to me. It has to be on the radar of the scammers and con-artists that run the company. Otherwise they simply consider it to be a cost of doing business and keep up the same shenanigans. And as a class action, you get a lot more.

      The airlines should get their asses sued off every time they pull this shit. If they gave people good customer service and fixed the issues rather than acting like Ma Bell, they wouldn’t have these lawsuits

  3. Binaryslyder says:

    Southwest may lose more luggage, but at least they do it with a smile. I fly with them whenever I can.

    • nova3930 says:

      I love me some cattle car airlines. I always feel like mooing as I’m shuffling through trying to grab a seat.

      • RevancheRM says:

        End result is no different than the lines I stood in with the other sheeple before boarding other airlines’ flights.

        Complaining about the method of boarding and tying it as cattle is so…cliche.

        • OPRAH says:

          Exactly, call me cattle but hey I get the best seats, at the best price, with NO hassle. I fly Southwest priority over all the other airlines.

        • NeverLetMeDown says:

          Not for me. With other airlines, I book myself an exit row or get upgraded to first.

        • bhr says:

          Anyone who uses the word “sheeple” instantly loses all credibility with me. You aren’t better then the rest of us, no matter what you think,

  4. raydee wandered off on a tangent and got lost says:

    Um. It’s a class action suit, so anyone who has lost a bag after paying American Airlines a back-checking-fee can get in on this.

  5. AllanG54 says:

    Years ago I flew with American. Had two brand new pieces of hard sided luggage from Samsonite. As per the commercials, a gorilla couldn’t destroy that luggage but American managed to. One piece was able to be fixed, the other had to be replaced. I must admit that American did pay for the repairs and the new suitcase. It was quite unnerving to see my suitcases half open on the carousel with my stuff hanging out of it. I can see how a class action suit might get their attention but then I think they got a couple hundred million in fees last year so $5 mil is just a drop in the bucket.

    • Raekwon says:

      Both times I bought new luggage they were damaged the first flight they were used on. Blah blah not responsible for normal wear and tear was always the answer I got. Since when is my brand new suitcase impaled on the corner of a luggage cart normal wear and tear?

    • sixsevenco says:

      Fun trivia. That wasn’t a Samsonite commercial. If was for American Tourister. Ironically, the competitor receives all the credit for one of the best commercials ever.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KhoOuxN8cyw

  6. JollyJumjuck says:

    For those who think a $5M suit is unreasonable:

    a) Judges very, very rarely award the amount sued for, even when the suit is a “reasonable” amount. If you are out of pocket by $1000 and sue for $1,000, you’ll likely get awarded $500, so you’re still in the hole.
    b) The woman has to spend time and money filing the suit, time and money she would not have had to spend if American Airlines had refunded her money.
    c) Who is being more unreasonable: the woman suing for $5M, or American Airlines which has a revenue far in excess of $5M a year, and yet cannot part with a paltry $25 when THEY lost the luggage?
    d) A $5M lawsuit will make American Airlines wake up and take notice. A $1000 suit in small claims court will result in a default judgment, then the courts have to chase AA for the money, which they will likely not get. She could sue for $1000, win the suit, yet still not receive any money at all, or receive it years later. Because $1000 is peanuts for an outfit like AA, they will continue to NOT refund checked baggage fees to customers whose luggage they lose. However, when a $5M lawsuit is on the table, it is a significant amount of money and AA will try harder to settle, and try harder not to lose luggage or change their policy.

    • adamstew says:

      Actually, American Airlines would most certainly pay the $1000 if they got a judgement. Unpaid judgements mean that plaintiffs can attach to assets and auction them off, typically at liquidation type prices.

      I read a news article long ago about this person who sued his bank over fees or something. The bank didn’t bother to send a lawyer, so the guy got a default judgement for some pretty small amount… like $1000. The bank had 30 days to send a payment, the guy sent demand letters, etc. but ultimately the bank didn’t pay.

      So the guy went back down to the courthouse, filed to seize assets of the bank, got a sherif and went to a random bank branch. Legally, with the power of law enforcement behind him, he started taking their computers, telephones, furniture, etc. The extra court costs, the cost of hiring an auctioneer, paying the sherif, etc. all got added to the judgement as collection expenses. After he started taking their stuff, the branch manager made some frantic phone calls and the guy had payment, in full, in less than an hour.

      Wouldn’t it be awesome if this lady sued AA for $1000 for luggage, got her default judgement, and then they didn’t pay. If I were her, i’d do the same thing that other guy did…start enforced collections. Go down to the airport, hopefully one of their major hubs, with a sherif and seize their luggage sorting equipment. Imagine the amount of hurt that would cause to AA if they had to shut down operations at one of their major hubs for a day to deal with that. Cancelled flights out, diverted flights in, rebooking thousands of passengers and having to compensate them for things that weren’t “acts of god” because they couldn’t get them to their destination. It would be epic.

      It would be even funnier, however less damaging to AA, if she seized one of their jets and sold it off at liquidation prices. “AA had one of their multi-million dollar 747′s seized and auctioned off today to pay for damages from one un-refunded $25 luggage fee when the plaintiff’s luggage didn’t make it to her destination.”

      • breese524 says:

        Before you walk in and take the luggage sorting equipment you better hope they own it. I’d hazard a guess that the air port owns the sorting equipment as they use it to sort luggage for all of the airlines using that airport.

        You’re more likely able to take all of their check-in computers as they are more likely an asset that the airline would own.

        • bugsbenny36 says:

          I believe “adamstew” was making a point. He wasn’t saying that AA fly 747 nor that it should be the luggage system per se. The point is, that if she would follow in the bank dude’s approach, she would have different avenues to collect on

      • Buckus says:

        That’s awesome. I’d like me some Boeing 747 for $25.

      • wetrat says:

        AA does not fly 747′s.. nice try.

  7. Supes says:

    This has been coming for awhile. A lot of people speculated when airlines started charging extra for checked bags, it stopped being a service provided incidental to travel, and started being an agreement entered into with customers to deliver the bag to the destination.

    This is the price airlines pay for trying to hide fees rather than be upfront about total costs.

    • elangomatt says:

      I really hope this class action lawsuit gets a big judgement from AA. I fly pretty rarely, but buying a plane ticket is like buying a concert ticket from ticketmaster anymore. You pay for the cost of the flight, and then the final bill ends up being a large percentage of the original ticket price. I really wish that they would add all of the fees onto the price of the ticket and just be done with it all.

  8. evilpete says:

    At the very least, that $25 is going to cost airlines several hundred thousand dollars in corporate lawyer fees.

  9. Mr_Human says:

    “Of note, the one airline that doesn’t charge for your first checked bag, Southwest Airlines…”

    JetBlue doesn’t charge for the first back, no?

    • Evil_Otto would rather pay taxes than make someone else rich says:

      Indeed they do not. I fly JetBlue whenever I can.

  10. ARP says:

    I know the primary role of the suit is to create a separate agreement related to luggage.

    However, I don’t think she actually made a claim for her belongings and the fee. The airline says that the luggage fee can be a part of your claim. My guess is that she asked someone at the service desk for her money back and they don’t have the power to do that. If she made a claim and they refused, then I can definitely see the reason for this suit.

    • Bob says:

      Well, the whole premise of the class action is that when they charge you fees for a service and they don’t deliver that service and refuse to refund your money that is a breech of an implied contract. Implied contracts are usually hard to prove, except when the airline sets up a checked baggage fee the way they do. If it was included into the price of a ticket without it being itemized as a checked baggage fee then there would be no case.

      For instance, I charge you an extra $1 for a meat patty for your hamburger and I made it compnay policy to refuse to refund the $1 back if your hamburger doesn’t have a meat patty on it, and my stores do this on a regular basis, then it is a breech of an implied contract.

      As for AirTran, I have never had a problem with getting a refund or credit for the baggage fee if the luggage was not delivered in a “reasonably” timely fashion (for instance my flight or by the next flight in), except for standby flights (which is a totally different matter). Even with standby I got my luggage within 24 hours of arrival so I can’t really complain.

  11. Eat The Rich -They are fat and succulent says:

    Having flown probably millions of miles with Southwest Airlines I must defend them. I have never, ever had a piece of luggage lost or damaged by them. Not even delayed. And I have shipped a ton of weird stuff too. All of it has always come back fine.

    OTOH, it seems almost every time I am forced to fly with someone like Delta or American, something bad happens to even my basic suitcase. Lost, delayed, damaged, rifled, with things stolen.

    I agree that if they are going to charge you extra for that bag you should receive premium service.

    • Thyme for an edit button says:

      I once had luggage delayed for 24 hours on Southwest. (I changed planes, but my luggage didn’t, basically.) When I called Southwest, they offered to reimburse me for expenses incurred as a result of the delay, which was basically me buying a clean shirt and some toiletries. Anyway, I didn’t even have to ask them for such reimbursement, they just straight up offered it. This was years ago so I am not sure if they still do it.

    • tbax929 says:

      I’ll trade you your anecdotal evidence with mine – they’re both worth as much. I fly American almost exclusively (mainly because they happen to fly to the two places I travel to most often), and I’ve never had a piece of luggage lost or damaged. I flew Southwest one time. The flight was overbooked; they lost my luggage (which managed to get on the plane without me); and they were unsympathetic at best.

      My point is that people have good and bad experiences with every airline.

  12. Speak says:

    I have flown a lot of different airlines in the past 5 years or so thanks to work, and all of them EXCEPT Soutwest has lost my bag at least once. Most of the time I get my bag the next day because it missed a transfer when I didn’t. Once in a while I have had to wait up to 3 days for a bag due to weather and the flight it was re-scheduled on being canceled. Thankfully I have never had an airline completely loose my luggage. I also never received my money back for my checked luggage when it was lost. Maybe if this suit is successful I can get some money back for those times or sue when this happens in the future.

  13. Abradax says:

    That’s what you get for charging fees instead of raising fares.
    You charge a fee for something, you better provide the service or refund the fee.

  14. Quake 'n' Shake says:

    $5,000,000 seems a bit excessive for something that should be going to Small Claims Court.

  15. sopmodm14 says:

    the have to be accountable

  16. what says:

    If we all took some notes from the woman who only needed 6 items of clothing, then we wouldn’t have to check luggage, would we? All we would need is carry on luggage!

  17. grapedog says:

    I always carry on… I never check baggage.

    • Skankingmike says:

      ditto don’t trust them. If only everybody had a wife like mine who as trained how to pack by somebody from the Navy. :P

  18. colinnwn says:

    “Southwest Airlines, led all U.S. airlines with the highest number of lost bags last year.”

    Can you provide a reference for this statistic? I strongly suspect it is wrong. The statistic in the ATCR is for mishandled bags. That means the bag was generally delayed, even just one flight later, or possibly damaged, or lost completely. But being lost completely is an entirely different and very rare thing.

    There are some reasons this number is likely to be higher for Southwest, that don’t relate to it being worse service compared to other airlines. But some of these reasons could be equally valid for companies that are customer focused like JetBlue and Virgin America.

  19. BuyerOfGoods3 says:

    This is what is wrong with America. “You lost my bag — You owe me 5 million dollars.”

    Christ. Refund her damn $25 and dismiss it.

    • Pax says:

      Ehem.

      PLAINTIF #0001: “You lost my bag. You owe me a $25 refund for the checked baggage fee, plus $250 for my legal costs, and $125 for lost work and/or vacation time dealing with this matter.”

      PLAINTIF #0001: “You lost my bag. You owe me a $25 refund for the checked baggage fee, plus $250 for my legal costs, and $125 for lost work and/or vacation time dealing with this matter.”

      PLAINTIF #0002: “You lost my bag. You owe me a $25 refund for the checked baggage fee, plus $250 for my legal costs, and $125 for lost work and/or vacation time dealing with this matter.”

      PLAINTIF #0003: “You lost my bag. You owe me a $25 refund for the checked baggage fee, plus $250 for my legal costs, and $125 for lost work and/or vacation time dealing with this matter.”

      PLAINTIF #0004: “You lost my bag. You owe me a $25 refund for the checked baggage fee, plus $250 for my legal costs, and $125 for lost work and/or vacation time dealing with this matter.”

      PLAINTIF #0005: “You lost my bag. You owe me a $25 refund for the checked baggage fee, plus $250 for my legal costs, and $125 for lost work and/or vacation time dealing with this matter.”

      [ ........ ]

      PLAINTIF #8762: “You lost my bag. You owe me a $25 refund for the checked baggage fee, plus $250 for my legal costs, and $125 for lost work and/or vacation time dealing with this matter.”

      That’s what “class action” means.

      And yes – once a matter gets to court, the amount you’re entitled to is increased by all “reasonable expenses” you incur. Your lost wages from missing work, the cost to file the suit, the fees your lawyer charges … these have all LONG been deemed “entirely and 110% reasonable” by the courts.

  20. Tankueray says:

    The lawsuit says that when airlines charge you extra to check your bags, those fees represent a “clear and unambiguous agreement with passengers to handle bags with care, and deliver them to their destination in a timely fashion.”

    No, that’s what people assume. By merely traveling with that airline you should get the guarantee that your luggage will arrive with you unharmed. The fees represent the airlines attempt to increase their profits because they overpay inadequate employees and executives to continually provide us with increasingly shitty service. Oh yeah, and to supposedly upgrade planes that fall apart all the time.

    There, lawyers, I fixed it for you. Now the judge and the Obama administration will fix it.

    (Hey grammar nazis. Should I have made “airlines attempt” possessive? You know when something is written correctly but it doesn’t look right?)

  21. CaptCaveman says:

    The fees are out of control.
    I was flying to Florida a few weeks ago. I was going to fly Allegiant since they have non-stop from Des Moines, IA to Orlando. The price seemed good until I continued booking the flight.
    What was about $200 round trip per person (2 adults, 1 child) turned into around $400 per person.
    There was a fee to board the plane.
    Baggage fee.
    A charge listed for a seat. If the regular seats were not available you would have to pay extra for special seat that could be one row in front of or behind the regular seats. And the fees just kept coming and coming. I decided to just deal with swapping planes in Atlanta and shaved almost $600 off the cost of the trip instantly.

    As for lost luggage… ATA was a nightmare when they were flying in and out of Des Moines. I should have held a party in front of their desk on the last day of operation here.

  22. chingadero says:

    I guess the only solution is a proximity fuse, whereby if you are separated from your bag by a distance of greater than, say, 5 miles (reasonable in even the largest airports in the world), it explodes, showering airline employees with dirty underwear and cheap souvenirs.

  23. smo0 says:

    I haven’t flown in over a year…

    I told my family as much recently, unless someone dies… you will never get me on a plane again.

    I thought about going to Hawaii for my 30th… I’m pretty much limited to plane travel, but I hear wretched things about Hawaiian Airlines… one recently from the bf’s mother…

  24. jeffile says:

    Is $5 million really too much? Which punishment for an errant child would be more effective? No dessert for one month or only giving a 1/2 dessert portion for one meal? Which punishment would make the child and his siblings take notice and which would make the child chuckle to himself? Unfortunetly, if AA loses, they’ll probably boost the checked baggage fee by $5.

  25. P_Smith says:

    Some people and companies “think” they are above the law and need a good slap in the face to make them pay attention. You can’t get away with slapping a CEO no matter how much he deserves it, but a $5million judgement in a court can be as or more effective.

  26. Extended-Warranty says:

    The lawsuit says that when airlines charge you extra to check your bags, those fees represent a “clear and unambiguous agreement with passengers to handle bags with care, and deliver them to their destination in a timely fashion.”

    Where does it say that? Does that mean any airline that doesn’t charge gets to have a field day with your luggage?

    She has no case. They are just as “guilty” as any other airline that loses luggage. For a class action, they are going to have to prove negligence on a large scale which will never happen. If I was American Airlines, I would have refunded her though. Then when she asked how to get reimbursed, tell her she just settled by accepting the refund.

    • Pax says:

      That doesn’t have to be spelled out in explicit terms.

      LEaving aside any explicitly-stated terms, it works like this:

      (1) Airline offers to put my bag(s) in the hold, and lists various prices I’ll have to pay based upon size, weight, and number of bags.

      (2) I hand over the bags, and pay the price demanded of me.

      (3) CONTRACT FORMED. Yes, really: “offer and acceptance” has occurred. I have provid3ed my consideration (the money), and now it’s in the airline’s hands to provide THEIR consideration (the service).

      Even without being written out in full, the mere fact that the Airline is CHARGING for this “additional, non-included service”, means they _ARE_ forming a separate contract to transport that specific piece of luggage.

  27. dragonknight says:

    American Airlines changed all 4 of my flights, no movie on any leg all 3 hour legs, missed connection, no adverse weather, no compinsation, nasty ticket agents, arrived days later, late luggage damaged luggage. missed work, parking fees, hotels, babysitters… Horrible customer service. The more you read about American Airlines you wonder why the government does not shut them down. Stay clear of American Airlines.