Travel Troubleshooter

Alitalia lost my luggage, and now it won’t pay

Q: Last August I flew from Palermo to Rome on Alitalia. My checked luggage did not arrive. In October, Alitalia considered the bag lost and promised to compensate me in accordance with the provisions and limitations set in the Montreal Convention.

The maximum liability for what it calls “luggage mishandling” is $1,579. Alitalia agreed to mail me a check for that amount within five days. Weeks passed, but I have not received a check.

It’s now been four months since Alitalia lost my luggage. I’ve called the airline several times to ask about the payment, but have heard nothing. Anything you can do to speed up the delivery would be appreciated. – Jeffrey Reed, Lawrenceville, New Jersey

A: Alitalia should have never lost your luggage in the first place. But if it did, then it should have promptly cut you a check for the amount it owed you under the law.

The Montreal Convention to which you refer sets the limit for compensation at 1,131 SDR (Special Drawing Rights) per ticketed passenger. An SDR is an international form of payment, defined as a weighted average of various convertible currencies, that was created by the International Monetary Fund. The value of an SDR fluctuates with those convertible currencies.

You did a nice job with your initial grievance. You filed a missing luggage claim immediately (you have seven days to do so under the rules). And, you gave Alitalia more than enough time to find your missing bags. Under the Montreal Convention, Alitalia should have declared your belongings lost after 21 days. It took 50 days to do so.

But let’s take a step back from this claim that seemed to take forever. Why entrust your bag to an airline in the first place? OK, it’s true that airlines are losing fewer bags, thanks to better tracking technology, but they haven’t fixed the problem. So you still pay the airline to check your bag and then wait 50 days for them to tell you what you already know? There’s something wrong with this picture.

Maybe we’re better off packing less and bringing our belongings on the plane as a carry-on. That’s what the savviest business travelers do. If they have more to carry, they use FedEx, UPS or a luggage delivery service. If their luggage gets lost, the claims process is much faster.

You should also consider a good travel insurance policy, which will reimburse you quickly for expenses related to lost luggage.

Bottom line: No one should have to wait four months for promised compensation from an airline. You could have reached out to Alitalia in writing – no calls – and asked for your money. A brief, polite email to one of the Alitalia executive contacts might have worked.

I contacted Alitalia on your behalf, and its records show that it mailed you a check three months after your flight (still really late). It appears the postal service had some trouble reading the label, which resulted in the check being returned. You believe Alitalia would have kept the money if you hadn’t contacted me, and I suspect you’re right about that.

Alitalia sent the check to your address again. This time, it arrived.

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. Read more at elliott.org, or email chris@elliott.org.

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