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Consumer Report

A lost bag leaves ruined vacation — and little recourse

Q. I would very much appreciate your help on a matter that I have been attempting to resolve with United Airlines since last August. My wife, her mother, and I were headed on a vacation to Norway that was interrupted by United losing my mother-in-law’s bag, which contained special shoes she required, prior to us even leaving Logan airport. Since they couldn’t locate her bag in time, we couldn’t make it to our tour, and the trip ended before it started. In the end, we lost over $15,000, of which United has reimbursed us roughly $800 plus $1,500 of travel certificates. I have begun thinking that I should seek legal counsel or bring this through small claims.

IAN GIBSON, MEDFIELD

A. This was one big mess. For one thing, an airline’s liability for a lost, damaged, or delayed bag is $3,300. And that typically involves some serious negotiating. In addition, an airline’s responsibility is to get you where you’re going. So, when you decided to forgo the trip because of the missing shoes, you essentially rolled the dice on that $15,000 investment. In gambling, the odds are always with the house. Your airline tickets, like most, were “nonrefundable.”

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But every rule has an exception. United Airlines spokesman Charles Hobart said the airline apologizes for the misplaced bag, which eventually turned up. He suggested that others who have items vital to their trips carry them on board, if possible.

In addition, United said it has credited you for the unused tickets, and the other airline involved issued a credit, too. So the result was more than $10,000 in refunds, compensation for hotel and food, and the $1,500 in travel vouchers. The only thing United did not agree to was to cover the cost of the missed tour. “I believe what we’ve given them is fair,” Hobart said.

A trip insurance policy could have helped. While it would have added more than $1,500 to the trip cost, you’d be out less than you are. Meanwhile, consumers who feel wronged by an airline can consider lodging a complaint with the US Department of Transportation’s Aviation Consumer Protection Division.

Mitch Lipka has been helping consumers out of jams for the past two decades. He lives in Worcester and also writes the Consumer Alert blog on Boston.com. Mitch can be reached at ConsumerNews@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @mitchlipka.
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