Sunday, July 18, 2010


(I am now A Columnist. Published every Monday. Which would seem to give me time to write over the weekend, except that my deadline is Friday. Bggrrttt.

But yes, it does ensure that there will be at least one post a week on this blog. Recycling is so cool.
Unfortunately, while I can post my columns on the blog, I cannot send off old posts to be printed as columns. Bother.

Anyway, this one was written as the “sound of the deadline whooshing by” built up to a gale-force roar. Came out on Monday the 12th. Tomorrow’s column has been submitted. And I’ve already started on next Monday’s. Oh what a good boy am I!)

Travel is romantic. To arrive in a new country, draw a deep breath and go “Ah, I’m in Lantau!” (or Lima or Lagos, as the case may be).

Unfortunately, your luggage is in Sevastopol. Romance gives way to a feeling more like sand in your underwear. It’s the middle of the night, there are no stores open and the rest of your underclothes are in that suitcase in Sevastopol. How does one deal with the situation?
More relevant, how does the airline deal with a situation where baggage is in Europe while the passenger’s in Asia? Alitalia – as reported on the Internet last year - would immediately go on a wildcat strike. By the time the first irate passenger located the airline service desk, the staff would be downing grappa on the Via Cavour (presumably with much gesticulation and shrugging).

Some airlines, however, exhibit admirable resilience and efficiency.
Last Wednesday night the Lufthansa flight to Kolkata landed on time. The luggage did not. The large Lufthansa team – all 3 of them – swung into action to help the milling passengers. By hiding behind a convenient pillar. When rousted out, they demonstrated their customer-friendly attitude by distributing forms. To be filled in triplicate. Deposited. Receipted. Produced whenever the airline saw fit to produce the missing luggage. On the next flight. Saturday. Perhaps Sunday. Next week, next year, some time, never.

Sundry open-mouthed passengers hitched their jaws off the airport floor. And asked, what about NOW? What about clothes, toiletries, medicines? What about children and their milk, diapers, Gerber’s ready meals? How do we manage till Sunday? Will you give us money to buy what we need? Whereupon the airline reps mumbled vaguely, smiled sweetly and disappeared hurriedly. End of Act 1.

Two days of investigation produced some enlightenment and much pique. But no compensation. The city office phones are not answered because there IS no city office. A forlorn voice from the airport eventually said yes, we SHALL offer you compensation – 50% of your expenditure on clothes and 100% on toiletries. With no limit.

No limit? Good! We have a wedding to attend, can we buy fresh trousseaus from Sabyasachi, spend a couple of lakh? An audible gulp from the other end of the line, then a befuddling clarification: we pay 50% of what’s reasonable. As decided by our city team. Devastating obfuscation. In essence, Lufthansa delay your luggage, do not pay any compensation unless pushed, have no clear policy or limits in the matter and no transparency.

The first response is, only in India! This couldn’t happen in the West. Alas, a little research revealed that the air traveller really is beleaguered worldwide.
In May 2010 the EU Special Court of Justice ruled that the liability of a carrier in the case of destruction, loss, damage or delay of baggage is limited to approximately €1134.71 (an odd figure, yes, but the equivalent of 1000 Special Drawing Rights) per passenger. The Warsaw / Hague / Montreal protocols fix an upper limit for compensation of 17 SDR per kilo of luggage, about €18.5 or Rs. 1089. There is no stipulated minimum.

Basically, if the airline plays fast and loose with your luggage, you can scheme. Or argue. Or give up. But you cannot cite a general law.
You have been warned.

(Update: The luggage arrived last Sunday. Forms for compensation were filled in. Bills in triplicate were attached. Suddenly … nothing happened. It’s been a week.)


Phantasmagoria said...

I wrangled free tickets out of them. Worked for everybody.

Australopithecus said...

Oh yeah. It def. is a worldwide phenomenon, which is why, I've begun carrying a change of clothes in my backpack or avoid checking in bags as far as I possibly can..or better yet. take a greyhound bus. Airline staff is generally useless when it comes to missing luggage.

Friends of mine were flying out of Washington DC, when there was this huge snowstorm that hit the NE of the US. flights were canceled, general mayhem ensues but finally they make it to India, stayed three weeks and get back to the US...still no sign of the luggage. Luckily they still had some old stuff back in India so they did not have to spend on clothes. I think their luggage made it to India finally a week or so after they got back to the US.

Australopithecus said...

@Phantasmagoria: Really? which airline was this again, seems a "soft touch" as airlines go :) Please tell me.

Progga said...

Add BA to that list, please, oh please. They like to play fast and loose with your luggage thusly: if you have multi-city travel plans, BA knows exactly where your luggage is - it's always at the city that you've just left behind, just after you've left it behind. Information: 10/10. Execution: now, if only I had a gun.

TalkingHead said...

Congratulations on being a columnist...some day I want to be one too...

J. Alfred Prufrock said...

Ph, I can well believe you wrangled rather than wangled. The airline is probably still in shock.

Aus, I travel the same way, but not possible on a 10-day trip.

Progga, I have never flown BA since 2001. (But that one time, I got an upgrade!)

T Head, would you also keep your hi-fi day job?