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Missed Connection and Delayed Baggage: What Are My Rights?

A reader recently recounted his experience traveling from Cincinnati to Rome with his wife, an experience that included missed connections and delayed baggage. His ordeal could happen to anyone.

Their tickets were with Delta Airlines, from Cincinnati to New York/JFK on Friday afternoon, then connecting there for a nonstop to Rome that arrived Saturday morning. But a mechanical problem in Cincinnati forced a delay of more than an hour, which meant missing the flight from JFK to Rome. Delta proactively rebooked them on a later nonstop from JFK to London, with a flight on Alitalia from London to Rome that arrived late Sunday. They had bought extra-legroom Economy Comfort seats for the original JFK-Rome flight, but Delta did not accommodate them in Economy Comfort on the JFK-London flight. In Rome, their baggage was delayed and not delivered until the third (hers) and fourth (his) days, and as a result, they had to spend about €300 for interim clothing and other items. My reader’s question: “What rights do I have and can I ask for point (frequent-flyer miles) or monetary compensation?”

First, the easy one: You are entitled to a full refund of what you paid for Economy Comfort. Ask Delta to issue a refund “forthwith,” as the cop shows say. If Delta offers miles instead of cash, ask for a bunch. And if Delta stalls, dispute the charge on your credit card: If you paid and didn’t get it, you’re due a refund. This answer applies to any extra service on any airline for which you pay but an airline refuses or fails to deliver.

You are also due reimbursement for necessary expenses you incurred as a result of your delayed baggage. This is a contractual and a legal requirement in both the U.S. and Europe. Among the U.S. lines I checked, Delta is the only one to provide specific guidelines for reimbursement: $50 for the first day, $25 per day for additional days. The contract notes, however, that these figures are just recommendations, and you’re free to ask for more. Just be sure to get receipts and provide them when Delta asks.

Other lines generally do not specify any dollar amounts. Instead, the more standard contractual language simply calls for “reasonable” expenses. And the contracts specify a maximum cap, but that cap is based on the same value as for totally lost baggage—about $3,200 in the U.S., around €1,220 in Europe—and it’s hard to come up with figures anywhere near those numbers for “reasonable” interim expenses. In lieu of payments for incidentals, some lines provide amenity kits with basic necessities: a toothbrush, toothpaste, shaving cream, a razor, and such.

Whenever your checked baggage fails to arrive with your flight, airlines specify that you file a claim immediately at the airport baggage office of the airline that delivered you to your destination—where you found out the bag was missing. On itineraries involving two or more airlines, don’t try to figure out which line was “at fault” for the problem. You file with the line that carried you into your destination and let the airlines sort out the blame among themselves. You can subsequently amend your filing, but don’t wait to start the process.

If your baggage is delayed more than 12 hours, Delta and Frontier refund any baggage fees you paid. Other lines refund baggage charges only if the baggage is declared “lost” rather than just delayed.

As I read the rules, you do not have a valid monetary claim for a delay when your original flight is canceled and your airline arranges for the first available alternative. In long delays, an airline does owe you compensation for meals and for hotel accommodations in an overnight delay, but not for lost time. You can ask for some miles or a voucher, but you can’t demand either.

If an airline owes you a monetary refund, you can always accept an offer of a voucher or frequent-flyer miles instead; airlines are almost always more generous. Just make sure to ask for a voucher or miles worth substantially more than the money you’re due.

Ed Perkins on Travel is copyright (c) 2012 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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