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Steps to take if you think an airline has damaged your luggage

Aug. 29, 2022
6 min read
Passengers at airport with luggage
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I am a bit embarrassed to admit that I didn't transition to using a hard-shell suitcase until I purchased my first suitcase from Away (The Carry-On) in 2021. Until then, I had long used the same soft-shell, black-and-gray carry-on bag that I inherited from the luggage closet in my parent's basement many years prior.

I love my Away suitcase for a few reasons, including the chic black design and its ability to easily fit in the overhead bins of most domestic and international airlines. An added bonus is the included reusable water-resistant laundry bag.

While I love my bag overall, the one thing I noticed almost immediately upon using my suitcase for the first time was the visible scratches and white marks it received after just one trip. Although Away describes its hard shell as "durable polycarbonate," this appears to be a common problem with Away suitcases, as I learned when discussing my observation with some friends with Away suitcases.

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Whether you are traveling with Away luggage or another brand, it's reasonable to expect your bag to experience normal wear and tear over time. However, what happens when your luggage becomes damaged beyond that when getting from point A to point B? Damaged baggage policies are fairly consistent across airlines, with several key steps you'll need to take.

Here's everything you need to know about submitting a claim and what you can expect throughout the process.

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File a claim before you leave the airport

To start, know that most major domestic airlines, including American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Southwest Airlines, all require travelers to report damage to bags before leaving the airport. This means you need to almost immediately notice the damage after getting your bag off the carousel.

To report the damage to an airline, find the local baggage service office of your carrier immediately after arrival. It should be located near the baggage claim area or the ticket counter.

Once an airline representative inspects the bag, you may be asked to complete a damaged bag form — typically in person, though Delta lets passengers complete a claim form online — if it's determined that the airline may be responsible for the damage. You'll then receive a reference or file number that you'll want to hold on to throughout the process.

Claims must be submitted within 24 hours of a domestic flight or seven days of receiving your bags after traveling internationally.

The wear and tear an Away suitcase sustained. CAROLINE TANNER/THE POINTS GUY

Taking this initial step of filing a claim is important because it becomes increasingly more difficult to prove that your bag was damaged by the airline once taken off-site. Situations where a claim is submitted after a bag has left an airport are generally handled on a case-by-case basis.

"Once left the airport, it would be, of course, tough to verify where the damage was from, but I would encourage customers to reach out as there isn’t a one size fits all on these things (i.e. someone that reaches out shortly after getting home vs weeks later)," a Delta spokesperson told TPG via email. "I would just suggest that customers reach out to us for any next steps."

Meanwhile, United says that customers who notice damage after leaving the airport can also submit a claim in writing to the airport's baggage service office, so long as it's within the seven-day arrival window for international flights. The airline even provides a handy cheat sheet showing how to navigate the process.

UNITED.COM

Similarly, American Airlines says customers can submit a claim form online after leaving the airport.

"If a customer believes their bags have been damaged and they are outside the notification window, they can still submit a request and our team will review it," a spokesperson for the airline told TPG.

Although Alaska Airlines does not specify what falls under the "normal wear and tear" of coverage, a spokesperson confirmed that damaged baggage claims are handled on a case-by-case basis.

Related: Lost vs. delayed baggage: How are they different and how do you protect yourself?

Know what type of damage qualifies

It is normal for your baggage to experience wear and tear from use over time, so airlines typically won't assume responsibility for minor forms of damage.

For example, Delta assumes zero liability for any "preexisting damage, including minor cuts, scratches and broken zippers as a result of over packing, or for wear and tear resulting from ordinary handling of baggage," while United has a similar policy for damage caused by "inherent defect of baggage, poor quality of baggage, baggage being over-packed or ordinary wear and tear."

Although American does not specify what they will and will not cover, you can reasonably expect exceptions not listed in the above policies to fall under damage an airline would potentially take responsibility for.

Keep in mind that airlines are not liable for any damage caused during random searches by Transportation Security Administration agents. If your bag is damaged while being screened by the TSA, you can contact the agency at 866-289-9673.

Stay on top of your claim

Regardless of which airline you're flying, be sure to keep track of the reference number for your damaged baggage claim to track its status online.

Once an airline determines it did in fact damage your bag, it will handle each scenario on a case-by-case basis.

"We evaluate each case individually to determine the best course of action related to compensation for damaged bags," said a representative for United.

Depending on your situation, the airline may either provide monetary compensation or send your bag out for repair.

Related: Which credit cards cover baggage delays?

Bottom line

As a frequent traveler, you should expect your suitcase's appearance to reflect your travels. However, not all damage is created equal. You may find that an airline will cover damage beyond minor dings and scratches.

Note any damage your bag sustains as soon as possible to increase your odds of receiving compensation. Carefully read your airline's damaged baggage policy, too, so you're aware of what to expect as you move forward with submitting a claim.

Featured image by dpa/picture alliance via Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

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  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
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