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Fri, Sep 07, 2007

Passengers Sue British Airways For Lost Luggage

Suit Claims Carrier Violates Provisions Of the Montreal Convention

When does an airline's mishandling of luggage cease to be a major inconvenience... and become an actionable, legal issue? According to three US travelers, British Airways has crossed that line, and they have filed a proposed class-action lawsuit to prove it.

Washington-state residents Donald and Joan Smith and Aydan Kayserili of Milwaukee, WI claimed Wednesday the world's second largest international airline violated provisions of the Montreal Convention, which governs how airlines handle passenger baggage, according to the law firm handling the case, Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro, LLP.

If the court approves the case as a class-action, it would represent tens of thousands of travelers who have experienced what the suit claims is reckless handling of passenger luggage, and would award them actual losses not limited to the $1,500 cap British Airways invokes.

According to the suit, filed in Federal court in Seattle, British Air loses 23 bags per 1,000 passengers carried -- about 60 percent more than the industry average, and twice as bad as the worst US carrier.

The suit claims British Airways has lost more than one million items of baggage over the past two years.

The Smiths flew British Airways to Italy for a two-week vacation in June, but their luggage did not arrive on their flight through Heathrow Airport. They spent hours on the phone trying to locate the luggage and say British Airways' customer service were uncooperative, with one agent telling Donald Smith the staff was "overworked and underpaid," the suit states.

After two weeks of fruitless calls to the airlines, Joan Smith traveled to the Naples airport, and over the angry objections of airline staff, gained access to the lost-luggage storage area where she found the missing luggage.

According to Steve Berman, the attorney representing the proposed class, the Smith's story didn't end there - when Joan opened the suitcase, she found the contents soaking wet, damaged beyond use.

"Most travelers have some patience for botched luggage issues, but what the Smiths and thousands of other travelers have experienced with British Airways is beyond the pale," Berman said. "I don't know what is worse -- British Airways' deplorable baggage-handling skill, or their arrogant disregard of passengers' concerns and complaints."

Aydan Kayserili's experience was similar. Traveling from Scotland to Madrid on business, the suit alleges that her luggage didn't arrive. British Airlines told her they located her bag and it would arrive on the next flight. Over the next few days, the airline amended its predictions, saying it would arrive the next day, and later, the third day. All proved to be false, the suit states.

Eventually BA confessed they didn't know where her luggage was, and told her she should replace her clothes and would be reimbursed, the suit states.

After 21 days of fruitless effort, British Airways told Kayserili to consider her luggage permanently lost. To this date, the complaint alleges, she has not received fair compensation for the value of her lost belongings, which far exceeded the $1,500 reimbursement British Air claims to provide for permanent losses.

"The sad reality is that there are thousands of other stories like Aydan's and the Smiths'," Berman added.

British Air's director of operations, Chris Want, was quoted in the media saying, "We accept that overall levels of service we offered to our customers has not been up to an acceptable standard."

"Saying that British Air is not living up to an acceptable standard is a huge understatement," said Berman. "The infrastructure of this company's ability to provide services to passengers has collapsed and British Air needs to step up and take responsibility for its actions."

The suit seeks to recover actual losses incurred by travelers who had luggage lost, delayed or damaged. According to the suit, the Montreal Convention waives the $1,500 loss limit when the carrier is reckless and has knowledge that damage would probably result.

"Studies have shown that travelers on British Airways stand a 1 in 36 chance of having the carrier lose their baggage - we think that defines reckless behavior," Berman added.

This case comes just weeks after the airline admitted to illegally fixing prices on passenger flights. The airline has been ordered to pay a $300 million fine to the US Department of Justice.

The complaint claims British Airways violated provisions of the Montreal Convention, which governs how airlines handle passenger baggage. The convention, to which the United States and 124 other countries are signatories, also provides means by which airlines can be held legally and financially liable for damages sustained in cases of destruction, damage to, or temporary or complete loss of checked baggage.

The suit seeks to represent American international British Air travelers who had luggage lost or damaged or delayed between September 5, 2005 and September 5, 2007.

No word yet whether Mimi Ghadban would join such a lawsuit...

FMI: www.hagens-berman.com, www.britishairways.com

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