Laptop Stolen. Options?
October 23, 2009 7:28 AM   Subscribe

My younger brother was forced to check his laptop on an American Airlines flight out of Dallas/Fort Worth. You can probably see what's coming, but...

The backpack his laptop was in never made it to Philadelphia, or at least never made it to him. It's been six days now, and he wants it back -- he's got years of schoolwork on it.

Has anyone had similar shitty experiences? Will AA compensate him for the full value of the laptop? Is it worth trying to file a police report? Is AA and/or Dallas/Fort Worth particularly bad for this sort of thing?
posted by bokane to Travel & Transportation around Dallas, TX (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I fly out of DFW all the time, usually on AA, and have never been asked to check anything I've carried on with me (I check my luggage). And the feeling I've always gotten was that AA would very strongly prefer nobody checked laptops, because the chances of them arriving at the destination airport are pretty slim, and if they do the chances of them still working are even slimmer. Was the gate agent absolutely clear on the fact that there was a laptop in the backpack?

You could file a police report. It may help in filing a claim with American. He's not going to get his laptop back, and he's probably not going to get much of a reimbursement (there's miles of fine print about how flying means you agree that your shit will likely disappear if it's valuable).

If someone literally told him, "yes, sir, you have to check your laptop," I'm quite sure they were not adhering to general policy. If he has a name, that might help him make a stronger case for reimbursement. There's probably not one on the baggage claim receipt he was given, but the serial number on there may allow them to go back and see which agent checked the bag.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:48 AM on October 23, 2009

Was the pack over carry-on limits? Was it gate-checked, or checked out in front?

I have never heard of this. They usually want to see the laptop, and then you can put it back into whatever you have it in, as long as whatever fits into the overhead bins or under the seat.

(Once a DFW TSA guy took interest in an old scuzzy watch band I had on. I was taken into a room and they coated it with some liquid that was supposed to detect explosives. . .which only made it scuzzier. Obviously the guy was bored and was just doing this for sport.)
posted by Danf at 7:51 AM on October 23, 2009

Yes, I'm sure there are a number of people reading this thread who would very much like to know what would cause a TSA or airline official to require that a laptop be checked. Please tell us what happened, if you possibly can.

Sorry, I don't know what recourse your brother would have... but maybe something in the story of why the laptop was checked will be illuminating there, too.
posted by amtho at 8:01 AM on October 23, 2009

Maybe by "forced to check his laptop", the OP mean "by circumstances", and not "by TSA officials".
posted by muddgirl at 8:07 AM on October 23, 2009

We need more information. Was he told to check the bag upon check-in? At the gate? Why, was it too big? Did he have other bags that were over the carry-on allowance? And most importantly, has he filed a lost baggage claim with AA? Have they attempted to track the bag?

AA has some limits in its contract of carriage for the compensation value of the contents of lost bags, so it's highly unlikely your brother will get the full value of his laptop back.
posted by bedhead at 8:08 AM on October 23, 2009

Also, if he has already reported the bag as delayed or missing to AA, he can check the status online here. There's also a link to Baggage Customer Service on that page.

I have seen surly gate agents force people to check oversized bags at the gate, but you should have time to take a laptop or other valuables out before checking. DFW-PHL is serviced entirely by MD-80s, so gate-checked bags would be picked up at the regular baggage claim, unless they did something really odd and had people wait for them at the door of the aircraft upon arrival. Even so, with the baggage tag they should be able to track it.
posted by bedhead at 8:23 AM on October 23, 2009

I can't imagine any situation where you would be forced to check a laptop - would love some more information here. (I've been forced to check my hand luggage at the gate and just took my laptop out and walked on the plane with it out of its container.)

Highly doubtful your brother will be compensated for it at all. See here for some info, but clauses like this protect the airline from having to pay out.

Certain items (e.g., cash, jewelry, cameras) are excluded from liability for lost or damaged checked baggage. A complete list of the limitations and exclusions is in our conditions of carriage and is available upon request.

posted by meerkatty at 8:51 AM on October 23, 2009

I don't know how to help your brother at this point, but I am really looking into ReboundTag myself because I live in fear of something like this happening. I live in FL and TSA has been investigating thefts by airport personnel in Miami, and that's just one recent example.

Figured I would put the info in here for anyone reading this thread who has similar fears.
posted by misha at 8:54 AM on October 23, 2009 [3 favorites]

Regardless of why he checked it, I'd absolutely file a police report were I him.
posted by tristeza at 8:55 AM on October 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

I hope that he has a backup of his work.

If you can't get anywhere directly with AA, try writing it up and sending to The Consumerist. They often get responses from sheer publicity....especially if the story is a good one.
posted by griffey at 9:03 AM on October 23, 2009

"Regardless of why he checked it, I'd absolutely file a police report were I him."


The police report is a crucial first step to any kind of recourse, and creates an official record of the incident. There may not be an investigation, but it can only help (not hurt) to have one. Then escalate, escalate, escalate the incident, and follow up with Consumerist and an Executive Email Carpet Bomb if you get nowhere with the airlines, their insurance, or the traveler's insurance (if applicable).

One More Link.
posted by kenbennedy at 9:10 AM on October 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

A while back I was traveling with a laptop in my backpack as a carry on. While going through security they found a nice big leatherman (doh) in there. I was given the option to toss it out or go back and check my bag.
I almost didn't think it through at just handed my pack to the ticket agent. Right before he passed it to a baggage handler I grabbed my laptop out. Only later did I realize that I had almost done something really stupid. Was this such a situation? Was your brother forced to check in his bag (because of something he had, or that it was too big) and forgot to remove his laptop?

If your brother does not have a backup then this could have a bad ending. As for getting the laptop replaced, see if any of the following apply:
a) Did he pay with a credit card? If so call and find out if it came with travel insurance.
b) Does he have renter's insurance?
c) Did your folks pay for the laptop? Perhaps this could be covered under their home insurance policy?
posted by special-k at 10:00 AM on October 23, 2009

My younger brother was forced to check his laptop on an American Airlines flight out of Dallas/Fort Worth.

I doubt this is true. It sounds more likely that he was told he could not carry on his backpack. He then chose to check the backpack without removing the laptop first. If they actually specifically told him "no, you can't take your laptop out of your backpack; you have to check it," you should say so. Otherwise, just ilke any other airline, American is not going to compensate you for a lost valuable object that they specifically exclude from checked baggage. Since airlines get so many complaints, I think they will be relatively immune to an e-mail carpet bomb approach. You can try, but I think it will be a waste of your time.
posted by grouse at 10:05 AM on October 23, 2009

Under no circumstances should you ever, ever, ever check a laptop. I would refuse to board the plane rather than check a computer.

At this point all you can probably do is to file a police report.
posted by Justinian at 10:37 AM on October 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

From my understanding of airline policies I'm in agreement, there is no recourse. This has to be chalked up as a learning experience about check-ins and making data backups.
posted by crapmatic at 11:27 AM on October 23, 2009

Getting the laptop (and the data) back seems like a long shot. But beyond filing a police report, if your brother bought the laptop on a credit card, he should check with the credit card to see if there is any sort of automatic insurance. Depending on how long it's been since he purchased the laptop, loss or theft may be covered.
posted by veggieboy at 11:28 AM on October 23, 2009

Odds are he probably won't have much luck going through normal channels, but making a YouTube video about it might help his chances some.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:24 PM on October 23, 2009

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