While travelling by air, you may happen to have your checked baggage damaged. Most of the times the damage is minor, such as a burst seam or a broken zip, however, in extreme cases, the suitcase may turn out to be unusable (e.g. when the wheels have been broken off). It may also occur that damage affects the goods carried in your baggage or that valuable things are stolen from your suitcase. Is it possible to do anything if such is the case? What may come in handy is the Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules Relating to International Carriage by Air executed in Montreal on 28 May 1999 (Montreal Convention), which is compulsory to be reflected in airlines’ regulations. The Convention is applicable to any international carriage of passengers, baggage, or cargo by airplane, which is provided against payment. An international flight on a passenger airplane, by all means, falls within that scope. The Convention comprehensively governs the wide range of rights and obligations of both the passenger and the carrier, including the rules applicable in case of baggage loss or destruction by the airline.
Pursuant to Article 17 Section 3 of the Montreal Convention, the carrier bears liability for damage sustained in case of destruction, loss, or damage to checked baggage, provided that the occurrence which caused the destruction, loss, or damage took place on board the airplane or whilst the checked baggage was in the charge of the carrier (i.e. practically from the moment of check-in until collection from the baggage reclaim at the destination airport). Nevertheless, airlines’ liability is not unlimited – carriers are not held liable in the case and to the extent of the damage arising as a result of the natural properties, quality, or manufacturing defects of the baggage. Moreover, the Convention provides for amount limitations, which in the case of destruction, loss, damage, or delay are up to 1,000 Special Drawing Rights per passenger (that international unit of account is converted into the currencies of the signatory states, currently 1,000 Special Drawing Rights equals in excess of PLN 5,600).
In the context of indemnification for baggage damage, of significance are also the terms – in case your baggage is damaged, you have to notify the carrier immediately after you ascertain the same but no later than within seven days from the checked baggage collection. In the event that term is missed, indemnification for baggage damage caused by the airline will not be possible to claim.
There is yet another catch – a conviction is held that when the checked baggage is collected without any reservations by a person authorized to that baggage collection, it constitutes an allegation (which, however, may be invalidated by submission of evidence, e.g. photos) that the baggage was delivered in a good state of repair. Therefore, all damage should be best reported still at the airport, just upon baggage collection at the baggage reclaim.
In the event baggage is damaged during a flight with an airline, the passenger is not doomed to failure while claiming indemnification from the carrier. The Montreal Convention endows the passenger with quite solid grounds to claim from the airline an amount sufficient to buy a new suitcase.