Late flight? Stuck on the tarmac? Lost luggage? Something missing from your luggage? Cancelled flight?
These are ALL an annoying part of air travel.
As a frequent flyer, and former airline employee (focused on baggage handling technology), I am amazed at everything travelers blame on the airline. Some things are absolutely the airlines fault, such as giving your seat away, bad service, and rude employees! But airlines give blamed for everything, even the other problems that aren’t in their control and definitely not their fault.
Our first response is to blame the airline when air travel goes wrong. Let’s review five common air travel woes and determine who is at fault, and what you can do about it!
- Cancelled or delayed flight due to weather? The irresponsible airline partnered with the FAA and decided that your safety was important. Flying in bad weather can result in wild turbulence (barf bags are provided for this reason). There is a high risk of circling the airport before cleared by the airport tower to land, which can lead to diverting to another airport for refueling and no way for an on-time arrival! Or, worst case, really bad weather can result in a plane crash and possible death – airlines try to avoid this, aircraft is expensive to replace and they lose all those frequent flyers! NOT THE AIRLINES FAULT
- Turbulence? Storms happen, some which can result in a bumpy flight. The pilot can request a higher altitude, or route change, but it is only a request. Sometimes, the only option is deal with the turbulence, or land immediately (not necessarily at the origin or destination airport). NOT THE AIRLINES FAULT
- Cancelled or delayed flight due to mechanical issues? This is the equivalent of maintaining your car. Many things are avoided by preventative maintenance. While others just happen due to wear and tear. Considering how many miles these aircraft cover, I am content when they ground a flight due to “check engine light”, or anything that could result in a crash! BLAME THE AIRLINE
- Cancelled or delayed flight due to scheduling or software issues? Southwest Airlines had an epic meltdown Christmas 2022 (remember #SouthwestMeltdown trending everywhere?!?!?), this was due to years & years and IT neglect and delay for much needed software updates. Passengers, flight crew, baggage, and aircraft were stranded. Flights were cancelled with zero notification to customers! Baggage was piled up in various hub airports, often far away from their owners. Everything that could go wrong with flight related communications failed! Southwest issued refunds, manually reunited bags with passengers, and compensated impacted passengers with reward points. Budgeting for software updates and IT infrastructure is absolutly the responsibility of the airline! BLAME THE AIRLINE
- Someone opened your luggage? It was probably TSA, and they will leave you a little love note (Notice of Inspection), or possibly Customs if travelling internationally. Neither TSA nor Customs are employed or in any way controlled by the airline. Both TSA and Customs can open your luggage for any reason, or random inspection. They can remove items deemed hazardous or restricted, and sometimes your fancy electronics or cash look hazardous – do not pack tempting items in your checked luggage! MAY BE THE AIRLINES FAULT(Probably NOT)
- I was on a TSA tour in the PHL airport screening, where TSA showed me a full size (opened) bottle of liquid laundry detergent that was deemed hazardous and removed. There was massive paperwork for this one item, which allows the owners to submit a claim against it. Removing this one bottle also resulted in the luggage to miss its connecting flight. No airline personnel were allowed to touch the bag or contents while TSA had control. The airline is blamed for mishandled luggage, even while in TSA custody.
- There are many convicted ex-TSA agents that are responsible for stealing items from luggage, here is one example.
- Luggage can and does open during transit, zippers get caught in the equipment, or not fully zipped up or clamped down. There are a number of ways that your luggage can accidentally open. Baggage handlers may not realize as soon as this happens, and contents can spill out of your bags. Double check that you have securely fastened and zipped your luggage before checking. Straps, cases, and packing cubes are also another option to better secure your luggage and contents from mishaps.
- For many airports, a large portion of the baggage handling system is automated. The human interaction (opportunity to steal) is limited, by design. With the rush for on-time departure, there is very little opportunity for airline employees to steal anything. Ticket agents (checking your luggage), Baggage Service Office (BSO) agents, and reroute bag agents do have access to your bag for a short period of time and pose a small risk for theft. Most of this interaction is under the scrutiny of security cameras, reducing the occurrence of any incident.
- Damage to your luggage? Again, since a large portion of the baggage handling system is automated in various airports, this could be the airports fault on conveyor belts, TSA (they can cause damage while they are inspecting your bag and removing things), airline baggage handlers, or the airline conveyor belt into and out of the belly of the aircraft. Airlines are somewhat accommodating for damaged luggage, if you go to the Baggage Service Office (BSO) and file a claim immediately. Show them the damage to your luggage and anything inside. MAY BE THE AIRLINES FAULT, but they will pay either way!
- One of my checked bags had an unfortunate run-in on a conveyor belt that ripped a massive hole through the top, rendering the bag utterly useless and destroying a wool coat. I filed a claim as soon as I picked up my bag from baggage claim. The airline replaced the bag, with a very cheap duffel bag, and paid (a reasonable) replacement cost for the coat.
Make sure the next time air travel is less than perfect that you direct your frustrations in the correct direction. Above all, be polite, factual, and understanding who is to blame.
There are different compensation requirements around the world, the European Union (EU) has great passenger protections for delayed or canceled flights in the airlines control, and US airlines are only required to compensate passengers that are “bumped” from oversold flights.
When it is the airlines fault, they may have financial responsibility to accommodate you on another flight, hotel accommodations, food vouchers, and other compensation. Be sure to ask!
Want better service when it is the airlines fault (or not)? Join the frequent flyer program and rack up a few trips. Flying with status can go a long way towards better service, free checked bags, first class upgrades, lounge access, and many other great perks!