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February 3, 2015 9:46 PM   Subscribe

Why won't American Airlines investigate loss claims/theft from baggage?

Flying to Haiti from the US last month, one of my travel companions had his carry-on get red-tagged. In this carry-on my friend had an envelope containing $4000 US dollars, along with two smartphones, all of which were tucked into the pocket inside the lid in the carry-on. The money was for family, of course, cumulatively gathered from family who had entrusted the money with him. Because he is a) young, and b) not an wisened traveler, he allowed his bag to be taken expecting it would be handed back upon arrival and disembarkation.

Upon landing, he learned otherwise; he was to go through immigration, the carry-on would be waiting for him at baggage claim. He continued on thinking this was the best way to get to the carry-on. After passing relatively quickly through Haitian immigration (he is Haitian), he went to collect his bag. Now comes the sickening part. Opening the bag, the two phones were gone, and the envelope was in the bag now ripped open with no money.

At the American Airlines counter, the AA agent said there was nothing he could do and that my friend would have to file a report online. My friend, dismayed, turns and walks away crestfallen. (At this point I enter the picture.)

We returned to the counter. The agent repeats the same explanation, that he can do nothing and filing online is company policy. I explain that that cannot possibly be the case and that there are cameras in the concourse (I point them out) and that surely there are cameras around passengers' bags and that security must be informed. The American Airlines agent disagrees, and I ask his name. He says he will not give it.

Now I'm perplexed. Of course an actual customer service representative of American Airlines has to give their name. (The representative is in AA uniform and has a necklace with ID laminate that is reversed/cannot be read.) He says no and we argue this point for 10 minutes before I state that I will have to go for the police. (At this point, I should have. The problem is that I was with my wife and we had our belongings and people waiting for us.) At this, the American agent gives in and with unhappily gives his name.

Since returning, I have interacted with AA via twitter and email many times. They are available, empathetic, and otherwise completely unresponsive. While I am but a gold status AA flyer, they are there to hear my position. So far the response has been to apologize and promise attention. Several times. And then the signal dies. No further (human) response, no investigation, no interest.

The thing is for this to have occured, certainly similar must happen to others. And it seems likely this was an inside job. And furthermore, it even seems within possibility that the American Airlines agent in Haiti might even themselves have been in on the theft.

I have tweeted about this, and several travelers have tweeted back: "The same thing happened to me!" or "I was robbed too and American didn't do a thing!" My question is is why is American Airlines so unhelpful about looking into the my friend's situation? And does he have any further recourse?
posted by Mike Mongo to Travel & Transportation around Haiti (8 answers total)
These are the only three questions you asked:

Why won't American Airlines investigate loss claims/theft from baggage?

Because it isn't worth their time.

My question is is why is American Airlines so unhelpful about looking into the my friend's situation?

You've indicated your friend is not a frequent traveler. Frequent travelers don't make American Airlines a lot of money, and American Airlines runs on a net profit margin of 5.8%. In other words, it's not worth American Airlines' while to solve this problem. After all, what can they do? They aren't police officers; even if they could point out exactly who took the money and lead the police exactly to that person (both of which are doubtful), they'd still have to rely on the Haitian justice system to do anything about it. That's not likely, and it takes time on American Airlines' part, which directly cuts into their profit margin.

And does he have any further recourse?

Not practically. All carriage agreements with all major airlines specifically exclude liability for cash. There are further (significant) limitations for liability for luggage, and it is likely that they do not nearly cover the cost of your friends' smartphones. International travel is particular bad, since it is covered under the particularly unfriendly Montreal Convention.
posted by saeculorum at 9:54 PM on February 3, 2015 [5 favorites]

Why do you and your friend continue to refuse to file online, which you have repeatedly been told is the standard procedure? Sure, there are plenty of security cameras in the airport, but they're AIRPORT security cameras, not American Airlines cameras, and what were you expecting? That the whole airport would be what, locked down while everyone in the entire facility focused only on you? (And that doesn't even consider if the problem was on the departure end, not at the arrival airport.) Follow the repeatedly-stated online filing procedure, and do it soon before any filing deadline passes.
posted by easily confused at 2:26 AM on February 4, 2015 [7 favorites]

I don't think American Airlines can do anything in this case. You say that the theft was an "inside job," but that doesn't mean that it was an employee of American Airlines who stole the money. The bag probably went through the hands of baggage handlers, who are likely employed by the airport and not American Airlines.

It may be that theft is a common problem at that airport, but one that the local police are not willing to investigate, either because they don't have the resources or because they are getting a cut of the profits from the stolen goods. That's just my guess, since I live in a country similar to Haiti and theft and corruption is extremely common here.

I would advise your friend to file a police report, not that they will be able to recuperate the money, but maybe it will give you some leverage with American Airlines to have the police document the theft.
posted by Lingasol at 6:23 AM on February 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

In the spirit of your title: Ravèt pa janm gen rezon devon poul. Sorry.
posted by dr. boludo at 6:34 AM on February 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Ah, easily confused, I failed to clearly report we DID and HAVE filed online. Robot responses. We followed up with twitter, resulting in empathy and a request to file online again (we did). And the posting of a link that explicitly states AA liability is limited/AAis not responsible for electronics in checked bags. (Incidentally, AA's twitter follow-up has in fact been engaging and responsive.)

What I expected, easily confused, is some kind of move forward to help. Not anything more.

In hindsight, I should have moved for my friend to call the police. As I said, I was with my wife and people were waiting for us separately from my friend.

What bothers me most of all was the AA's agent initial refusal to give their name when we went to file a complaint/seek assistance. This alone merits investigation on AA's part.
posted by Mike Mongo at 6:24 AM on February 5, 2015

Okay, to continue playing devil's advocate:
The carry-on bag your friend had --- you say it was 'red-tagged'. Do you mean it was oversized, too big to legally carry onboard and fit in the overhead luggage compartments, and he was required to check it through instead? Then that's on your friend, not the airline. Bag size limits are nothing new and are clearly stated ahead of time.

Knowing not to put valuables of any description in checked bags is not exactly something new or unheard of; that's old news, and has been common sense for many decades, no matter how you travel. Standard practice for pretty much anyone going anywhere is, keep valuables on your person. So your friend put a large amount of cash plus electronics into a oversized bag he tried carrying on instead of checking: again, that's on him, not the airline.

Okay, crap happened, his bag was opened and stuff was taken. Now: is there proof of precisely when and where that theft happened? Perhaps it was an AA employee, but it also could have been all sorts of non-AA employees at the departure airport counter, the departure airport baggage handlers, the arrival airport baggage handlers, TSA, Customs, or who knows who else.

And I'm going to guess that it didn't help matters with that American Airlines gate agent when you got involved: as far as the agent could tell, you were just a random stranger barging your way into someone else's inquiry, making unreasonable demands about a matter that was, as far as they could tell, not your problem, and that he'd already covered with your friend. And it wouldn't have helped anything if you were aggressive and/or loud. Your friend should have gone straight to the airport security office (not the regular civil police: airport security) to report the missing items, as well as filing online.

Either way, AA's liability is clearly limited, and I'm afraid your friend is out of luck. It's an expensive lesson, but now he knows to keep envelopes full of cash on his person. I'm sorry he had to learn it this way, but airlines have those liability limits because they don't even have proof that there was $4000 in your friend's bag in the first place: I'm certainly not saying he was lying about it, but we all know there are plenty of people who would, and no corporation wants to pay out on false or unproveable claims.
posted by easily confused at 8:38 AM on February 5, 2015

Response by poster: easily confused, by the numbers:

-Red-tagged because overhead compartments full.
-That knowing is for experienced travelers, such as myself and (I presume) you. And now my young friend who learned the hard way. Which is okay/an invaluable lesson.
- We are a gospel orchestra. It is possible he lied, as could anyone. However, he would endanger a great deal in terms of relationships—from his 15 musician peers to his family et al—so it is less likely. However, where is the proof that any unwitnessed theft ever occurs? Unless there is an investigation. It it is non-AA employees or not, AA should want to know.
- Now you presume, but too much. Of course there are more experienced travelers than I. However, I have plenty of travel and human experience to know not to be angry, accusatory, or confrontational. Also, I am not one to agreeably being wrongfully blown off. Nor was I a random stranger or did I present myself as such. In this case, I am the manager of the group, and my friend introduced me as such.
- you are wrong about going to airport security first. In any case, I just spoke to my friend and the reason we did not call the police is because he asserts no report would be filed and that I do not understand how Haitian police work. He says he spoke to the Haitian police at the gate and they said, quote translated, "What do you want us to do about it?"
- As for liability, I am not expecting any return whatsoever. Only follow-up. There has been next to none, and none in terms of checking on what happened in Haiti.

Again, we have filed online. AA's twitter informed us to do so again. So this has been done twice. Since the second report two weeks ago, NO answer has been forthcoming.

Finally, it is not unreasonable to expect some follow up, some connection, some something from American Airlines. If there is a problem, it needs addressing or correcting. After all, at what American Airlines counter in the world have you had an agent refuse to give their name? It is why such individuals where an ID—so that they may be identified!

I have been a big fan of American. My record as such is long-standing and often noted by AA. Learning this has not cooled my jets it has just brought me slightly down to earth. Nonetheless, I point it all out so it is AA can improve on a situation that needs improvement. Even if an individual contacted me and explained that this would be looked into, it would help. That has not taken place. What more, what has taken place is steps away from just being ignored.

Such attention on AA's part is how companies build fantastic brand loyalty. "Let the buyer beware" may be true but it does not foster enthusiastic and loyal fans. Being a great American Airlines fan means I choose to fly AA because I believe they are a terrific company which does great work. This is one of the things AA can work on to become even better.
posted by Mike Mongo at 10:49 AM on February 5, 2015

Finally, it is not unreasonable to expect some follow up, some connection, some something from American Airlines.

You have unreasonable expectations of what you should expect from a company like American Airlines.
posted by saeculorum at 12:34 PM on February 5, 2015 [3 favorites]

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