Southwest Passenger Learns The Hard Way That Not All Checked Bags Are Treated Equally

southwestclaimsIn spite of all the technological developments in logistics and air travel, passengers’ bags still get lost, damaged, or stolen. Luckily there are remedies in place for such instances, allowing the passenger to be reimbursed for his or her loss. But many travelers may not know that these protections don’t apply to all checked bags.

CBS Sacramento’s Kurtis Ming has the story of a Southwest passenger who learned this the hard way, when the airline lost her bag but refused to reimburse her.

When the passenger went to check one bag at the counter, it was overweight. So she removed a Coach-brand backpack stowed inside and decided to carry that on to the plane.

However, she says the Southwest staffer suggested she check that backpack too.

“She told me no, no, no, you can just check it in, there’s not going to be an extra fee, it’ll be perfectly fine,” the passenger tells Ming.

The employee took the backpack, placed it into a plastic bag and the passenger went on her way.

But when she landed, there was the plastic bag her backpack had been put into, but… no backpack.

“I’m looking and I’m like, that looks like my bra, that looks like my underwear,” she recalls. “It was so embarrassing.”

Though she doesn’t say it outright, this appears to have been a case of theft, as the plastic bag contained non-valuable items like makeup, but the Coach backpack and anything of value it had contained were gone.

And so she filed a claim for $690 to replace the backpack and the items that had gone missing. Southwest denied the claim and only offered her a $100 voucher in exchange.

Why? Southwest says it’s because the bag was “conditionally accepted.”

See, deep in the airline’s Contract of Carriage [PDF, page 28], it details the kinds of items it will stow on board, but for which the passenger must accept the risk of “damage or destruction.”

(1) Fragile or perishable items
(2) Previously damaged items
(3) Improperly or over-packed Baggage
(4) Soft-sided cases or unprotected/unpacked items

The airline felt that the passenger’s backpack fell under this last category, though no one mentioned that to her at the time they checked the backpack.

And we’d like to add that the Contract of Carriage refers to “damage or destruction” of conditionally accepted items. From what we can tell, the backpack was neither damaged nor destroyed, but stolen. That had nothing to do with it being soft-sided.

“I feel really violated, I honestly feel like they pick-pocketed me,” says the passenger.

A rep for the airline We reached out to Southwest. In an email, they tell us:

“Our records show we tagged her bag as conditionally accepted, and marked it as such… Per our contract of carriage, a signature is not required but is sometimes done as a courtesy.”

In the end, the airline offered her a $500 voucher, which she says she will accept.

Southwest also states that it didn’t receive sufficient information from the passenger during the claims process but did not explain what that information was.

We’ve reached out to Southwest hoping to get an explanation on why, when a passenger is liable for a missing/stolen bag when the Contract of Carriage only says the passenger assumes “risk for damage to or destruction” of conditionally accepted items.