I wasn’t born yesterday. Elvira Nurbayeva, the Kazakh carrier’s manager for corporate communications, had already passed along documentation from WorldTracer, an international service that works with airlines to track lost luggage, saying that your bags were left in Newark. The reason: That you “DID NOT CLAIM AND CHECK IN FOR INTL FLT.” This “obviously means that the passenger should have received luggage on arrival in Newark,” wrote Ms. Nurbayeva. So you blamed United, United blamed Astana and Astana blamed you.
But when I went back to United with the additional details, things changed. In a statement, the spokeswoman admitted the bags had actually been tagged through to Atyrau but were not transferred correctly. And then:
“When this happens, we work hard with our interline partners to connect customers with their bags as quickly as possible, including compensation for the delayed bag. We sincerely apologize for the frustration this caused.”
Just days ago, you let me know what happened next: United and Astana agreed to compensate you $3,000, or $1,500 for each mishandled bag.
I’m happy for you, and I think your argument about United’s stated policy is reasonable, but I’m unpersuaded and left uneasy by this decision, because I fear it does not portend the dawn of an era in which airlines make generous payments to everyone suffering over lost luggage.
George Hobica, founder of the bargain travel site Airfarewatchdog, agreed. He was shocked to hear that United agreed to pay the full amount. He suspects the scrutiny of a certain major newspaper may have played a role. Airlines are required to pay you back a reasonable amount for items you had to purchase, he noted, but you had told me that amount of items was under $75.
“She is entitled to be compensated for her $75, but not for pain and suffering,” he said. “We all go through pain and suffering these days.” Legally, Mr. Hobica appears to be on strong ground. The 1999 Montreal Convention, covering international travel and signed by all three countries on your route, states that restitution is due “if the carrier admits the loss of the checked baggage, or if the checked baggage has not arrived at the expiration of 21 days.” (For domestic flights, the Department of Transportation has similar rules, offering leeway for the airlines to decide when to declare luggage “lost.”)