Southwest Damages Suitcase, Not As Awesome As Everyone Claims

Sure, you don’t have to pay to check your luggage on Southwest. Tara tells Consumerist that after her new suitcase was stained and broken while in Southwest’s hands, and she’d rather pay to check a bag that survives the trip intact. The airline says it’s their policy not to repair or replace suitcases damaged in transit. They’ve offered her a $100 voucher for future flights. Tara, who tried Southwest based on positive comments from Consumerist readers, isn’t interested in flying with them again.

She writes:

As a loyal Consumerist reader, I’ve noticed that when there are stories on your site about problems with airlines many commenters respond that the OP should have traveled with Southwest, since they’re so awesome.

I took those readers up on their suggestion and decided to take my most recent trip with Southwest. I had a conference to attend in Louisville, to which I traveled on Sunday, October 10. I arrived in Louisville on time, but my bag did not. It apparently never made it onto the flight. I spoke with a baggage handler. He asked where I was coming from, and I told him Tucson via Chicago. He made the comment that it’s not uncommon for a bag coming through Midway to be lost and assured me it would probably be on the next flight. He also informed me that the other person on my flight who had come from Tucson to Chicago to Louisville had just filled out a claim for her missing bag as well.

To his credit, he was correct about the bag showing up. My bag came in on the last flight of the night from Chicago. Although I was irritated that I had to stay up to wait and see if my bag arrived, Southwest dutifully delivered the bag to my hotel. At this point, I was pretty happy with how the issue was handled.

As I dragged my bag up to my hotel room (they have to leave them at the front desk per their policy), I realized that it was making a weird sound and giving me a bit of resistance. I turned it around and looked at it. Although it was stained (this appeared to be a grease stain or something) on the outside, the wheel looked okay from where I stood. Once I got it into the room, I realized that both wheels were bent, and a foot was broken off of the luggage. Fortunately, everything in the bag seemed fine.

Since I had just purchased the luggage the Monday before my trip, I figured I could just e-mail Southwest. I offered them pictures of the damaged suitcase and offered to send them my receipt as soon as I returned home from my trip.

Wednesday morning I received an e-mail from Southwest indicating that they are NOT responsible for damage to the feet or wheels of a suitcase, even if it is brand new when given to them. They offered me a $100 LUV voucher for my troubles. The e-mail was sent from an e-mail address that doesn’t accept replies. So, when I replied to it to indicate this solution was not acceptable, I received an automated e-mail that directed me back to Southwest’s website in order to contact them again. It came as no surprise to me that when I tried to access this portion of Southwest’s website it was not functional.

I know I have been fortunate that in 20 years of flying I’ve never had a bag lost or damaged. However, I’m disappointed that an airline that claims to be all about great service did not make more of an effort to rectify the situation. I’m also perturbed that they have a policy about not being responsible for damaging peoples’ bags (I know, call me naïve, but I found that surprising). It’s no wonder their employees treated my bag is if they were the gorilla from the old Samsonite commercials; they know they’re not going to be held accountable for damaging luggage. This policy seems full of fail to me.

So, although it was nice of Southwest to allow my bags to fly free, I would rather they had charged me and gotten my luggage to me in the condition I gave it to them. I have to fly home with them on Friday, and I intend for that to be my last flight with them. Despite all the complaints I read about American Airlines, they fly the same route and have managed no to lose or destroy my bags. So my business is going back to them. I’m sure they have a similar policy to Southwest’s, but I guess I’ll stick with the devil I know.

My question for Consumerist readers is, have you ever had success getting an airline to compensate you for damaged luggage? If so, how did you do it?

Always check your bag over for damage immediately after arriving: many airlines will only acknowledge damaged-suitcase claims made in person within a few hours of the flight’s arrival. (Tina’s bag was delivered to her hotel–the wheels could have been damaged by the driver who delivered her bag, too.)

While many airlines will pay to have your suitcase fixed, they don’t have to. The Department of Transportation guidelines say:

If your suitcase arrives smashed or torn, the airline will usually pay for repairs. If it can’t be fixed, they will negotiate a settlement to pay you its depreciated value.