When Airlines Damage Your Baggage: Help from the DOT


Have you ever checked a bag and waited patiently for it at the baggage carousel only to have it turn up with a broken wheel or zipper? I have and it is certainly no fun trying to finish a trip with a broken bag.  I do check bags occasionally and with what I know about baggage handling, it is one of the reasons I do not invest in expensive luggage. Damaged bags are more and more likely to occur now that the holiday travel season is full upon us.

Broken Wheels on Baggage
Broken Wheels

What about resolution? How many of us have been told that there is nothing the airline can do to help? Or that it is the airline’s policy not to reimburse for damaged luggage? I personally have had damaged wheels, broken handles, and torn corners and typically get a response somewhere along the lines that it is not the airline’s policy to reimburse for those things. United Airlines Damaged Baggage policy states that it will not cover damage to “protruding” parts like straps, pockets, pull handles and wheels.

Today, however, the US Department of Transportation issued a notice reminding airlines that they are required to compensate passengers for damage to wheels, straps, zippers, handles and other protruding parts of luggage beyond normal wear and tear.

The notice also reminds airlines of their obligation to accept all reports of mishandled baggage from consumers even if an airline’s agent believes the airline is not liable.  The notification is a result of recent airport inspections which uncovered the fact that certain airlines routinely exclude liability for damage to specific parts of checked baggage, even though they’re required to do so under current laws.

The Department’s Office of Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings conducted a two week study in September and found that many airlines were even refusing to accept reports of such damage at over 16 airports. Airlines have been notified to review, and modify if necessary, any baggage policies which are non-compliant in order to bring them into compliance with the law. Airlines will have until January 16, 2016, to do so.


So what should you do if you have damaged baggage?

  • Before traveling, familiarize yourself with the baggage rules of the airline which you will be flying.
  • Your first course of action is to immediately report any damage to the local baggage office when you land BEFORE you leave the airport. The local baggage office may be able to fix the bag for you or actually swap out your damaged bag for a similar one. You may be asked to leave or drop the bag off at a later time convenient to you.
  • If the local baggage office is not helpful, your next recourse will be to contact the airline in writing. Taking a time stamped picture of the damage will help in this situation. And I may be a little pedantic, but I always take a time stamped picture of the interior (packed) and exterior of my bag before checking it.
  • Also, check with your credit card and trip insurance if applicable; sometimes they will provide you with coverage for damaged luggage or personal items.
  • If all else fails, with the recent ruling and notification, I would think that contacting the DOT with a complaint would be in order. Again, save any and all documentation you have of your prior efforts as well as photos of the damaged luggage.

Bottom Line:

A carrier is liable if your checked baggage is lost, delayed or damaged regardless of fault. This is so unless the damage resulted from the inherent defect or quality of the baggage or, in terms of delay, if it proves that it took all reasonable measures to avoid the damage occasioned by that delay.



  1. Debra Kato says

    Great article! I have had many instances where my luggage has been damaged so I always take pictures of interior and exterior now. When picking up travelers, I always make people check their bags before they get into my car, especially during holiday season. Luckily, we’ve been fortunate here in Canada with Westjet or Air Canada and we’ve had bags repaired or replaced.

    • Susan DeBruhl says

      How lucky you are to be able to fly WestJet! And I’m glad to find out I’m not the only one who photographs both the interior and exterior.
      Here’s hoping you will never need those photos!

  2. Nancy R. Schoer says

    Susan’s blogs are always informative, and even more importantly, they are entertaining, and fun to read!!

  3. Meredith Dukes says

    Thank you for the DOT info! I was unaware of that. By the way, you’re not the only one who takes the picture of the inside of their luggage. 😉

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