In May, Neil and Maureen Ferris set out on a two-week trip of a lifetime to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. They planned to hopscotch across southwestern France and northern Spain, visiting vineyards and sampling local cuisine along the way.
But Neil’s suitcase did not arrive with them at the airport outside Paris, thwarting the couple’s plans to quickly hop on a connecting flight to Bordeaux. Neil Ferris says a Norwegian Air representative recommended they stay at the airport until their missing luggage was returned to them.
“If you leave, your luggage may never catch up with you,” Ferris said he was told.
The Ferrises wound up losing two days of their vacation while holed up in a hotel at the airport, constantly checking online for updates on their luggage. Once they got their bag back, they quickly hit the road, but there was no way to recoup the days they lost.
The Ferrises did, however, want to be reimbursed for the cost of the hotel they stayed in and other expenses they considered direct consequences of the missing bag.
Neil Ferris tallied the cost at about $1,500, including new and missed hotel reservations, the price of their missed connecting flight, and the car rental they needed to get on with their trip. But Norwegian offered a paltry $54.
“Basically, Norwegian said, ‘Sorry, we don’t owe you anything,’ ” said Neil Ferris. “I thought, ‘You got to be kidding. That’s outrageous.’ ”
Question: Is Norwegian responsible for paying the expenses the Ferrises incurred while they waited for the luggage?
I’ve looked at Norwegian’s contract with its passengers, the international rules on delayed baggage, and the e-mail exchange between Ferris and Norwegian over who bears the cost.
About half of the Ferrises’ claim is for two nights at a Sheraton hotel at the airport. That’s a lot of money. I think I would have insisted on something in writing from Norwegian before checking in, but the Ferrises did not do so.
Still, I think the airline owes something more than an apology and nominal amount to the couple. It comes down to reasonable conduct, and I think the Ferrises understandably worried about the difficulty of getting the missing piece of luggage to them once they left Charles de Gaulle airport.
It would have been different if the Ferrises had been planning to stay in Paris. When my wife and I traveled to Barcelona two years ago, our luggage was lost. But we were staying in the heart of the city. And early the next morning, a cheerful driver delivered the goods. No harm, no foul. (My wife had wisely stashed spare toothbrushes and other essentials in our carry-on bags.)
But Paris was never on the Ferrises’ itinerary. They were heading to the countryside and planned to keep moving from one place to another every couple of days.
Could the Ferrises really count on Norwegian to hit a moving target by dispatching a driver over rural roads?
Sure, Norwegian says. “It would take some time, of course, but we have contracts with a number of delivery firms for this and do this on a regular basis,” said Anders Lindstrom, a Norwegian spokesman.
Lindstrom also said the airline could find no employee at the airport who acknowledged telling the Ferrises to wait at the airport for bags. “Norwegian’s ground handler would/should not ask a customer to stay at the airport,” he said. The airline’s policy, he said, is to encourage travelers to move forward with their travel plans even without their luggage.
Disputes like this are one reason travelers should document everything. Of course, when you are in the moment, the stress can cloud your usual impulse to write it down. The Ferrises’ failure to keep records is understandable: The couple at first thought they faced only a short-term delay, only to have the crisis drag on for two days.
Neil Ferris, 72, is a retired high tech business executive who has traveled extensively. He said he loves Norwegian, which has made a name for itself by offering low prices, and praises the airline for taking good care of him after a flight got canceled at the last minute recently in Ireland.
But Ferris said he wants to get the word out to other travelers to be wary in such circumstances.
“I really expected them to reimburse me,” he said. “It feels like a case of mistreatment.”
The Ferrises wound up having a grand time, but a mishap at the beginning of a vacation can color the entire experience, Ferris said. Instead of basking in the sun in Saint-Emilion, a tiny wine-making town that was to be their first stop, they were stuck at the airport.
Ferris compiled his expenses and submitted them to Norwegian, including $850 for the hotel, $175 for the flight to Bordeaux they missed, and $120 for the hotel in Bordeaux that they skipped.
The airline’s response: “Norwegian apologizes for any inconvenience caused by the delay in your bag.” (The “any” in this sentence bothers me; better to say “We apologize for the inconvenience caused . . .” There was inconvenience; own it.)
Norwegian said it would give the couple $54 — the maximum allowable reimbursement of $47 for toiletries, plus $7 for two T-shirts Neil Ferris purchased.
“To ensure all passengers are treated equally, all airlines follow common rules when handling delayed baggage claims,” the airline wrote. “Our liability is limited in line with these international regulations.”
That suggests that all airlines are severely limited in how much they can reimburse passengers, right?
Not so. The international agreement among airlines imposes a limitation of about $1,600. It says airlines are liable for expenses incurred due to delayed baggage. It does, however, say airlines aren’t liable when they can prove they “took all measures that could reasonably be required to avoid” losing baggage and causing delay.
Well, c’mon. Norwegian failed to get Neil Ferris’s suitcase on the plane with him. The airline failed at one of its core functions. There’s nothing reasonable about that.
Norwegian, make a better offer than $54.
. . .
Speaking of apologies, I apologize to the Wellesley police department for naming it in last week’s column as the law enforcement agency that issued a ticket to a motorist for not having an inspection sticker. The ticket was unusual in that it was issued without the driver being pulled over; it was based on the officer’s sighting of the out-of-date sticker as the vehicle whizzed by. In fact, the citation was issued by State Police.
Unlike State Police, Wellesley police do not issue tickets without first pulling over motorists.