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Lost & Delayed Baggage: Your Rights Under the Montreal Convention

As frequent flyers, it is reasonable to assume that you will experience some sort of frustrating delay during your travels. Whether in the form of tarmac delays due to bad weather, being bumped from overbooked flights, or damaged/delayed luggage, any disruption to an otherwise seamless travel experience is sure to be a bother.

Luckily, there are a variety of protections in place for air passengers who encounter these unfortunate circumstances. Many people aren’t aware of what airlines are liable for, though, which definitely works in the airlines’ favour.

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Your rights as an airline passenger depend on factors such as the airline’s tariff and the routing of your flights.

If you are travelling on a domestic flight within Canada, you are subject to the recently created Air Passenger Protection Regulations (to be examined in detail in a future post). 

If you are travelling to, from, or within the European Union, depending on the flag of the carrier you fly with, you are covered by EU261 (again, to be covered in a future post). 

For other international travel, you are likely covered by the Montreal Convention, which was signed and ratified by 132 states and the European Union. The Montreal Convention provides uniform rules and regulations for the international carriage of passengers, cargo, and baggage. The Montreal Convention, signed in 1999 and effective as of 2003, is an update to the 1929 Warsaw Convention and 1955 Hague Protocol. 

When Does the Montreal Convention Apply?

If you are travelling from a country that has signed and ratified the Montreal Convention to another country that has signed and ratified the Montreal Convention, the Montreal Convention applies. For example, since both Australia and Canada have signed and ratified the Convention, the Montreal Convention applies. The same is true for travel between Canada and the United States.

If your departure and arrival points are within a country the has signed and ratified the Montreal Convention and there is not a planned stopover in another country, the Montreal Convention does not apply. For example, travelling from Vancouver to Toronto, the Montreal Convention does not apply.

If your departure and arrival points are within a country that has signed and ratified the Montreal Convention and you have a planned stopover in a country that has signed and ratified the Montreal Convention, the Montreal Convention applies. For example, if you are travelling from Vancouver to Toronto with a stopover in Chicago, the Montreal Convention applies.

If your departure and arrival points are within a country that has signed and ratified the Montreal Convention and you have a stopover in a country that has not signed and ratified the Montreal Convention, the Montreal Convention applies.

For example, if you are travelling from Mumbai to Chennai (within India, which is a country that has signed/ratified the Montreal Convention) via Colombo (Sri Lanka has not signed/ratified the Montreal Convention), the Montreal Convention applies.

What Does the Montreal Convention Cover?

Broadly speaking, the Montreal Convention outlines what airlines are liable for when carrying passengers, cargo, and baggage between Montreal Convention member states.

The document outlines liability in the event of death or injury to a passenger, destruction, loss, or damage to baggage, and for delays to passengers and baggage. Note that discussing the liability for delays to passengers is worthy of a separate post, as it is much more complex than delayed baggage. 

Lost, Damaged, or Delayed Baggage

If your bags have been destroyed, lost, or damaged while they were under the airline’s care, and if the damages were not caused due to defective or poor quality baggage (e.g., a cardboard box?), you can claim damages under the Montreal Convention (as long as your flight routing qualifies).

Unchecked baggage is also covered by this provision, although it is difficult to think of a situation where the airline could lose, damage, or delay your unchecked baggage.

In the event that your checked baggage has not been delivered to you by 21 days after its original date of arrival, it is considered lost, and you can claim damages that result from the loss of your baggage. 

But what if your bags are delayed and not lost?

Article 19 states that the carrier is liable for damage caused by delays to passengers and baggage during air travel. There is, however, a qualifying statement that suggests that the carrier is not liable for damages from delays that are outside of its control. Websites that offer (paid) assistance for claims with airlines list inclement weather, political/civil unrest, union/airport personnel strikes, bird strikes, and other reasons as situations where airlines are not liable for damages caused due to delay.

While the language around delays to passengers is quite murky, delayed luggage is quite clear: if you dropped your bag off at the departure and it doesn’t arrive at the destination, you have yourself a delay! 

Let’s have a look at what the Montreal Convention states in regard to luggage delays.

Article 22 states the liability limits that carriers are subject to in the event of a delay. You’ll notice that the amounts are stated in Special Drawing Rights, which is a “basket” of currencies created by the International Monetary Fund and the value is based on the U.S. dollar, the Chinese renminbi, the Japanese yen, the euro, and the British pound sterling. 

Carriers are liable for up to 1,000 Special Drawing Rights in the event of destruction, loss, damage, or delay to your baggage. At the time of writing, that is equivalent to around $1,800 in Canadian dollars, which seems like a substantial amount for a lost or delayed bag. This is certainly greater than any airline would volunteer to cover when you originally file a baggage claim!

It is important to note that just because the airline is liable for 1,000 SDR doesn’t mean that you are entitled to claim the full amount. Rather, this means that you can claim damages of up to 1,000 SDR in the event of a lost or delayed bag. You can also submit damages of more than 1,000 SDR, if you can substantiate your claim.

What Are Damages?

My understanding of damages is when you incur additional costs that arose as a result of the loss, damage, or delay to your bag. In other words, when you have to spend money that you wouldn’t have otherwise spent due to your baggage not arriving on time.

If you packed your toothbrush and other hygienic supplies in your checked luggage, and you are now without them at your destination, you will now have damages that arose as a result of your lost or delayed luggage.

If you are headed to a beach resort and your bathing suit was packed in your checked luggage, you will have to buy a new bathing suit that you wouldn’t otherwise have had to buy as a result of the delay or loss of your baggage.

Maybe you have an important business meeting and your suit was in your delayed/lost suitcase. You may be able to make a claim for a replacement suit that you wouldn’t have otherwise had to purchase.

I’ll let your imagination run wild here, as everyone’s reasons for travel are vastly different (as are the contents of everyone’s luggage)… 

A Real-Life Example

My wife and I recently flew from Dublin to Split via London with British Airways. When we arrived in Split, my bag came out on the carousel, but her bag did not. 

We filed a claim at the airport in Split and headed to our hotel, the Le Méridien Lav. The weather in Split was much different than the weather in Dublin, and her warm weather clothing was in her checked luggage. 

So, she had to buy some toiletries, cosmetics, and appropriate clothing that she otherwise would not have had to buy had her baggage arrived on time. We were also staying at a 5-star hotel, so she needed a nice outfit to wear during dinner.

The luggage was located later on that day, and was set to be delivered to our hotel on the evening of the day after we arrived.

In the meantime, she took a cab to the nearest shopping centre, claimed some reasonable expenses, and kept all documentation relating to her purchases.

We submitted the receipts and a detailed claim form to British Airways, citing the appropriate parts of the Montreal Convention that she was claiming damages under.

Upon receipt of the bag, we noticed significant damage and filed a separate claim under the Montreal Convention. The airport staff were helpful throughout the process. 

At this point, we are still waiting for British Airways’ response to the claim. They have up to 45 days to settle a claim, and I will update this post with the result of the claim as soon as it is received, likely in early November.

What to Do If Your Bag Is Delayed or Lost

If your bag doesn’t arrive with you, the first thing to do is to know what your rights are. I encourage you to read through the Montreal Convention and your airline’s tariff, which spells out the agreement between you and the airline.

You’ll then want to file a baggage irregularity report at the airport. The baggage desks are usually located close to the luggage carousels.

You can now start claiming damages by making reasonable interim expenses that you wouldn’t have otherwise had to make if you had your baggage. Be sure to keep detailed receipts, as you are going to need them when you…

Make a claim in writing to the airline within 21 days of arrival. There is an excellent step-by-step guide (with detailed resources for air passenger rights in general) for Canadians at the Air Passenger Rights resource.

The last step is to wait for the result of your claim. This may take some time, so you’ll have to be patient. Depending on the outcome, you will either receive some or all of the damages that you claimed, or you may need to escalate your claim further if you are not satisfied with the result of your claim. In Canada, you can file a claim with the Canadian Transportation Agency who will act on your behalf.

Conclusion

While lost or delayed baggage is certainly frustrating, knowing the details of what airlines are liable for can certainly alleviate your luggage woes. I wish that I was aware of these rights at an earlier point, as I have had my baggage delayed several times over the course of my travels.

Now that I am aware of the Montreal Convention and other rights as an air passenger, I know that I can claim damages if my bag is lost, damaged, or delayed. While the inconvenience of being without your stuff is annoying, coming back with a new toothbrush, Speedo, or suit is an optimal outcome for having suffered damages.

Have you ever claimed damages due to lost, damaged, or delayed baggage? What was your experience like with dealing with the airline? Leave a note in the comment section below.