Monday, October 6, 2014

Air Canada Lost Luggage - Experience and Lessons Learned

Air Canada announced recently that it would start charging $25 per flight for each checked bag.  This adds a $50 surcharge to the price of a return airplane ticket that is already heavily laden with taxes.  While the additional cost is bad enough, what adds insult to injury is that there is no guarantee that your bag will actually reach its intended destination.

This happened to us on our recent flight home from Calgary to Toronto with a layover in Ottawa.  Somehow, our suitcase was permanently lost (or stolen?) en route.  It has taken almost 3 months for us to get financial compensation, which Air Canada caps at $1500 regardless of the value of the items lost.

Upon arriving at Pearson airport, we waited in vain for our bag to come off the baggage carousel.  Once it was clear that our suitcase was not on our flight, nor the flight after, we started the lengthy process of searching for and then claiming compensation for the lost bag.  Here is what we went through and our lessons learned:

1. Before leaving the airport, we reported our lost bag at the baggage claim counter and created an incident record.  We had to present our baggage claim ticket (that is usually attached to your boarding pass-do not lose this!) and gave details about the type, size, brand and colour of our suitcase as well as sample contents inside.  We were assigned a baggage tracing file reference number and told to go home and await delivery of our bag.  If it did not show up after 5 days, then we could move to the next step.  During those 5 days, we could check on the status of the bags on Air Canada's Worldwide Baggage Tracer website.

 2. After 5 days and within 21 days, we had to download and fill in a Baggage Declaration form, which then had to be snail-mailed to the Baggage Claims Department in Quebec.  The requested information included:
  • Flight itinerary
  • Plane ticket numbers, Boarding Passes
  • Baggage Claim ticket numbers
  • Description of luggage - size, colour, style
  • Signed photo identification of the passenger (passport photo, drivers license)
  •  Itemized list and description of bags and contents
Luckily as part of planning our travel, I usually make a "packing list" of what I want to bring on the trip, to make sure I don't forget anything.  This list made it easy to fill in the itemized contents form.  Unfortunately the total value of our baggage contents exceeded Air Canada's $1500 liability limit by far, since we had been traveling for a wedding followed by vacation and had lost both our dressy and casual clothes.  We did still have the option to claim the rest with our home/property insurance (more on this later).  The form asked for receipts and details about size, colour, brand, manufacturer, where and when the items were purchased, and the original purchase price.  Who would keep all this information about their clothes after buying them?!?  We did not have all these details but filled out the form the best that we could.  We did have a photograph of our suitcase and its distinctive striped strap, so we sent that along to help with the search.


3. We mailed our form exactly 5 days after the loss of our luggage and then waited and waited.  What made it particularly frustrating was the difficulty of finding anyone to talk to who could set our expectations of what were the next steps involved and how long the process would take.  We checked the WorldTracer website regularly but there was no status update other than the original message "We are trying to locate your bag.  Please check again later".  We periodically called the 1-888 number of the Central Baggage Customer Care Centre but were connected with remote offsite call centre operators who did nothing more than look up the status, probably on the same website that we were checking, and report back that "the search continues".

About a week and a half after submitting our claim form, the status on the website changed to indicate that our claim had been received and was being processed.  Again, we had no clue how long this would take and went back to waiting.  About another 3 weeks after the change in status, we finally connected with a call centre operator who seemed to have a bit more information.  He was able to look up the date that our claim was officially "accepted" into their system, and informed us that there would be a 50 day "tracking" period starting from that date, during which they would intensify the search for our bag.  Finally, some one gave us a useful time frame to help set our expectations.  There was no point calling again until after the 50 days were up.

4. We phoned again at the end of the 50 day search period, and explained that the time was up. After some pressure on our part, the operator agreed to forward our file to the Claims department for settlement.  Again there was no indication of how long this would take and no way to contact the Claims department directly other than mailing them a written letter or sending a fax.  Our attempts to get a contact email or phone number for the Claims department were rebuffed.

5. Without any further guidance, we settled in for another long wait.  Imagine our surprise when a mere two weeks later, we received our $1500 claim settlement cheque in the mail, along with a letter indicating that they were unable to locate our bag (which we had realized months ago).  In total, it took 81 days for Air Canada to resolve our issue and compensate us for our loss.

6. Our next step was to file a "Theft, Burglary or Robbery - Off Premises" claim for the balance of our loss against our home/property insurance with Aviva.  We were expecting to have a $1000 deductible but were pleasantly surprised to learn that our policy had a disappearing deductible of 20% per claim-free year.  Since we had been claim-free for over 5 years, we now had a zero deductible.  We were required to fill out another itemization of the contents of our suitcase but were able to cut and paste from the Air Canada list for the most part. 

In comparison to the Air Canada experience, the one with Aviva was extremely smooth, quick and stress free.  After submitting our claim, it took merely a week for it to be processed.  We had the choice of taking the settlement as "replacement value", meaning we would replace all the items and send Aviva the receipts which they would reimburse, or take a lesser cash settlement that reduced the value of each item by a depreciation percentage ranging from 10 up to 70%!  The total cash value came to about 60% of the replacement value.  When it became obvious that I was leaning towards the cash settlement, which would give us a quicker resolution with much less hassle, the adjuster voluntarily offered to raise the amount so that we would receive 70% of our replacement value.  We happily accepted and this cheque is now in the mail.  Our property insurance disappearing deductible has been reset to $1000, but with any luck, we will not need to make another claim again until it has reverted to zero.

While we always knew that our luggage could be delayed, it never fully registered with us that it could be totally and irretrievably lost.  Being financially reimbursed cannot completely make up for the loss of some beloved items that have sentimental value and which were purchased long enough ago that they could no longer be replaced.  This has been quite the traumatic experience and I've learned some valuable lessons for the future.

Traditionally I have been a chronic "over-packer", since I like to be ready for all eventualities and I want to have my favourite clothes and accessories with me while on vacation.  This ordeal has cured me of this.  In the future, I plan to pack sparsely and only with items that I would not be devastated to lose or which I can easily replace.  Some pricey items that I mindlessly checked but that I will make sure that I carry-on in the future include my custom-made dental night guard and my electric toothbrush.  In fact, as much as I can, I will try to avoid checked luggage.  I will strategically pack as much as I can in my carry-on baggage, although the new $25 check-in fee has resulted in a crackdown on carry-on bag size and weight limitations. 

With our settlement money, we decided not to buy another full-sized replacement suitcase.  Instead, we researched the purchase of a pair of better carry-on cases that meet most airlines' size and weight restrictions, while maximizing storage capability and minimizing weight of the actual bag.  What we settled on was the Bric's X-Bag 21-Inch Carry-On Spinner Trolley which is made of sturdy but flexible, light-weight material that is 21"x15"x9" and weighs under 3kg.  It was recommended to us while we were browsing in the high-end Taschen! luggage store in Yorkville (162 Cumberland Ave.)  Thinking that we could get a better price elsewhere, we did a quick online price comparison and were surprised to learn that Taschen!'s price ($209) was better than other stores including Bed, Bath and Beyond ($229).

Most likely, our bag was lost during the layover in Ottawa, possibly because it did not properly check through to Toronto, as intended.  I have visions of it sitting on the baggage carousel in Ottawa until someone finally decided to take it.  We had this awkward flight because we used Areoplan points to book our flight.  In the future, we will think twice before agreeing to a layover and would rather pay more for a direct flight.  It's actually concerning how little security there is around baggage claim areas and how easy it could be for someone to walk off with your luggage before it gets to you on the carousel.  There is no security check to ensure that the luggage you leave with actually belongs to you.  At least at Toronto Pearson, the baggage area is restricted and only valid passengers can access it.  When we landed in Calgary, the baggage area was out in the open and anyone off the streets could walk up to take the suitcases.

We now have a CIBC Visa Infinite credit card that provides additional travel insurance coverage including delayed or lost/stolen baggage.  Too bad we did not get this card until after we had paid for the Calgary flight.  We were lamenting this unfortunate timing, but after reading the policy details on this credit card coverage, it turns out that we did not miss out on that much after all.  The coverage is only for a maximum of $500 per person (not sure if that actually means per bag, since we had two people's clothing in one bag) and is only in "excess to all other insurance or indemnity available to the insured."  Possibly if we didn't have a zero deductible, then the card coverage could have paid for that. I hope we never go through this again and don't ever have the need to find out whether this assumption is true or not.

I wish there was a way to inform Air Canada that despite such adverse circumstances, customer satisfaction would be much improved  if only they would set better expectations up front as to how long things would take.  But since the chance of finding anyone in the position to listen and take action is about nil, its just not worth the effort.  The uncertainty and lack of an escalation path to seek clarity was the second source of our frustrations.

Coming back to the issue of charging $25 for each checked bag–Air Canada, I would gladly pay this fee if you can guarantee that you never lose my luggage again.

21 comments:

  1. My luggage is still not found after 5 months. What to do?

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  2. Despite what Air Canada tells you, I'm convinced that if your luggage is not found within the first week or two, it is probably lost for good and you should actively pursue reimbursement instead. Did you submit the baggage lost forms like we did? If so, then unfortunately the only recourse seems to be frequent calls to that baggage claim number.

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  3. I have been waiting for mine over 6 weeks.

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  4. 6 weeks for me. Ticket agent messed up and swnt my suitcase to toronto with another passenger ( im in montreal)

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  5. Dalila, I'm happy that you finally got your luggage back. Unfortunately ours is gone for good.. I still miss some of my favourite clothes that I had in my luggage.

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  6. Mine is lost for more than 20 days. It contains a lot of legal documents. Painful wait. I last saw it in Toronto but never arrived to Sudbury. Unfortunately I don't have any insurance.

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  7. Wait for this....they lost my CARRY-ON bag!!! yes, that's right.....the carry-ons that you check plane-side because the planes are too small to hold all of them. I handed it to the baggage attendant at my boarding airport and never saw it again. I cannot make this stuff up. The bag had my very expensive (over $1200) coat and a suit in it. Stay tuned.......

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  8. Unbelievable....I had the same experience traveling from Toronto to Halifax , while at the departing gate Air Canada made a request for carry-on bags to be checked. Thinking I was doing the right thing to help a crowded flight I check my bag at the Gate ...Yes at the gate with the plane sitting right there !!! and a re-assurance from the gate attendant that the bag would be placed on the flight.....that was 3 days ago and still no bag .....trying to follow-up with Air Canada is another story......

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  9. Wow. We had the same thing in Victoria. We checked our carry on, took it onto the tarmac, HANDED it to the baggage handler right beside the cargo door and.... it didn't make it to Edmonton! The next day the agent called and said it was still in Victoria, but at least it wasn't lost. That being said, this is the first time after 40+ yrs of flying that I've had a bag delayed and AC almost always gives us good service.

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  10. We recently flew from Toronto to Israel. As soon as we arrived in Tel Aviv we were being paged that our luggage did not leave the Toronto airport but would arrive at our hotel the following day. We were on a tour and changed locations frequently which we advised them. For the next 4 days we would receive a call in the morning saying our luggage was on the plane and then later on in the same day saying it did not go on the plane but would be the following day. We called to let them know of new destination each time and each morning, call saying on plan, e mail saying not. Finally it caught up to us but only after my sister in law went to the Toronto airport to get our luggage to express it to us. They would not release it as it had gone thru customs and could not be moved. She made sure it got on the next flight. What a mess. We had to take stuff our of our carry one due to the 20 pound limit they have now and it was more important that my laptop go instead of clothes. Now we have spend the allotted amount ($200 each person) since we had no personal items and the little bag with a toothpaste etc was horrible. We are out of pocket about $1,000 due to their negligence. I doubt I will ever fly with them again.

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  11. same when my wife went back to halifax. the contents of her luggage is more than their compensation fee.
    what do they do with the baggage they left at the airport?

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  12. Same with me, I miss my brand new Samnoite Luggage. It lost when I travel from beijing to Vancouver. The 1888 number speak very unclear english and one call they told me they found the bag, the other one told me they have not seen it. The declaration form is also very frustrating, you have to show all your recipet inorder to get compensation, who would have all the reciept for old clothes? Air Canada is just very poorly manage company, I dont want to buy anthing with Air Canada any more.

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  13. We are having the same problems and situation that related to most of the comments above. Found it very frustrating, dealing with customer care people who have difficulty communicating in English. They read the standard script with "your bag is not lost" which is now a standing joke. It is now day 12, no different than day 1. Starting the process of "baggage declaration", and am expecting equal frustration no matter what the outcome. Air Canada is definitely not part of our future travel plans (and many of our friends)! Social media is our next step to inform people of the non-customer service of Air Canada!

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  14. my luggage is missing for couple days and i am in the process of filing up the form. seriously we dont have any original receipts, did u provide them with receipts or not? My luggage is RIMOWA though used, already cost $700 USD. will they compensate for it?

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    1. We did not have receipts since who keeps receipts for stuff you bought a long time ago. Without receipts, our insurance company indicated that we would either have to go find equivalent items to prove their value, or take a negotiated percentage (I think it was 70%?) of our claim.. the first option was too much work so we went for the second.

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  15. After 3 months i am still battling with them over my delayed lost stolen luggage. Now explain how do you loose a luggage on a straight flight.

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  16. Thank you all for posting as it helps those of us who are still in a lost luggage situation, my luggage has been missing for over a week now and I have been dealing with the staff at the baggage claim center who pretend to help and care but really do nothing to help me retrieve my bag. I am devastated as it contains many items that cannot be replaced and Air Canada does not care at all about the situation, sad that an airline can have such terrible customer service. I will never fly with Air Canada again.

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    1. I hope you are luckier than us and eventually get your luggage back. I still mourn the loss of some of my favourite items. I have not checked luggage on any flight since and have learned to travel light with carry-on.

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  17. the worst airline and most unprofessional customer service. Lost all my luggage and no one seems to care or contact, Its been 2 months now. Most disgusting experience ever. Will never fly on this air line or recommend anyone to fly.

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  18. Bag gate checked at Pearson in Toronto the bag still there 21 days later and they say united must request it as it was my last carrier.No amount of calls everday to both airlines has not got my bag back to me. I live 1hr. from airport.

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    1. To this day since my luggage was lost/stolen in 2014, I have learned to pack less and less when I travel and have not checked a bag again .. too much aggrevation

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