Should checked baggage fees be refunded for delayed baggage?

Should passengers pay for services not delivered — namely checked baggage fees?

checked baggage fee refundsThis column was taken from a set of comments presented by Travelers United to DOT regarding an NPRM for refunding checked-baggage fees. The comments show why airlines must deliver their checked baggage on time.

The definition of “on-time” is on the same flight as the passenger who checked the luggage. Or, the airline must make arrangements to get the checked luggage to the baggage area before the arrival of the passenger’s flight. The words baggage, bags, and luggage will be used interchangeably in these comments.

Travelers United believes that the definition of checked baggage being “timely-delivered” means delivery at the same time as the arrival of the flight on which the passenger checked their luggage. The FAA Reauthorization Bill allows this definition.
  • Travelers United believes that the analysis presented by DOT has been far too influenced by the airlines. The costs of determining when the delivery date and time determined etc. etc. etc., only add expenses and provide a system for airlines to continue delaying checked baggage.
  • There should be an escalating charge in the rule. This will come into effect every additional calendar day a bag is missing. Such a fee will ensure that airlines do not purposely delay the delivery of checked baggage. Plus, all rules for necessary clothing, etc., purchases permitted under current baggage regulations will continue.
The Travelers United solution to the checked-baggage fee issue is simple. Either the checked baggage is on the carousel or available for pickup within 60 minutes of arrival or delayed, or checked baggage fees must be refunded.
  • DOT should create a delayed baggage form that passengers can fill out to start the refund process. The form should go to both DOT and the airline involved. This way DOT can collect useful data. Passengers can initiate a delay complaint and airlines can inspect the complaints. Travelers United does not believe that refunds should be automatic. The passengers should proactively ask for their refund.
  • The airline or airline alliance that originally receives payment for checked baggage will be responsible for refunding the checked-baggage fee within 20 days.
  • International checked baggage that can be determined to be delayed by the airline flying the international leg should be paid by that international airline. The domestic portion of international travel can be treated separately by DOT rules.
  • Requiring the airlines to meet on-time delivery standards will provide positive unintended consequences for airlines. Such an improvement in baggage delivery will only come from requiring it.

The Baggage-fee Refund Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) was created from a document that was first created during the Trump Administration

Get refunds in cash when airlines cancel your flightThis NPRM should not be considered a new Biden Administration rulemaking document. It is a vestige of the previous administration. If there was one thing I heard repeatedly from the Department of Transportation (DOT) was that elections have consequences. So, I expected to see those consequences in the first rulemaking of the Biden Administration. However, I was disappointed.

Travelers United did not participate in the NPRM process. The basics were in the FAA bill that Travelers United worked for a significant time debating. However, Travelers United disagrees with the notion that any delay is not considered a delay.

Travelers United wants to make the rule as simple as possible. These refunds should be applied to airlines and not travel agents. Plus, the airline that collects the baggage fee should refund any fees for delays or losses. However, the airline that received the Mishandled Baggage Report (MBR) should immediately credit the passenger’s credit card or other payment methods. All corporate reporting and delineation of what partner or aviation company is ultimately charged is the responsibility of the airlines.

Here is the final wording of the FAA Reauthorization Bill of 2018. It directs DOT to refund baggage fees when bags were delayed. 

The provision at 49 U.S.C. 41704, note requires that the Department issue a final rule requiring an air carrier or foreign air carrier to promptly provide to a passenger an automated refund for any fees paid by the passenger for checked baggage if (1) the carrier fails to deliver the checked baggage to the passenger “not later than” (highlights noted by Travelers United) 12 hours after the arrival of a domestic flight, or “not later than” 15 hours after the arrival of an international flight…

These NPRM comments are fully within the wording of the 49 U.S.C. 41704.

Travelers United and other consumer rights advocacy groups have emphasized to DOT that delayed delivery of checked luggage greatly inconveniences passengers. Any time that checked baggage is delayed the passenger cannot complete the work for which they originally booked the flight. Also, many passengers miss cruise departures and family celebrations. Or they cannot participate in organized tours that require special equipment and clothing because of delayed checked baggage.

The problem caused by delayed bags is significant.

checked baggage fee refundsDOT has presented a listing of data collected by the Department’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS), in the calendar year 2019. These statistics show this is a significant problem, with 3 million bags being mishandled on domestic flights alone. Mishandled baggage data collected by the Department does not distinguish between lost, delayed, damaged, and pilfered bags. Data published by an aviation analytics firm show that delayed bags are the most common type of mishandling. Specifically, according to the 2019 SITA Baggage IT Insights Report, globally, delayed bags represented 77 percent of all mishandled bags in 2018, while damaged or pilfered bags account for 18 percent, and lost or stolen bags account for 5 percent. Assuming delayed bags are 77 percent of mishandlings in 2019 for domestic flights by US reporting carriers, similar to 2018, DOT estimates that at least 2.3 million checked bags transported domestically were delayed in 2019.

A single standard should apply to delayed checked luggage – it should arrive on the same flight (or at the same time) as the passenger who checked the luggage.

Both domestic and international checked baggage should be delivered to passengers when their flight arrives. Thus, developing standards to determine methodology for measuring the length of delays when a checked bag is determined to be delivered is unnecessary. Either the baggage is delivered, or it is delayed. Follow-on penalties may be affected by methodology; however, these penalties can be simplified by setting penalties as a per-day or portion of a day delay.

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