Would You Try to Seize a 777 Over an Unpaid Lost Luggage Claim?

Miles from Blighty goes to the mat against Continental over a lost baggage reimbursement claim.

My one experience over lost luggage with United (as an international first class award passenger) where compensation was involved was a bag that didn’t make it onto my Osaka flight, arrived there after I had made my way to Thailand, and three days later shows up in Phuket with United failing to authorize delivery of the bags — so I had my resort in Khao Lak make an airport for pickup.

I had purchased some cheap clothes in town to tide me through, and I sought the expenses for those as well as the cost of the hotel’s airport trip which I had been charged. I wrote United a letter, and had a check in hand for the full amount requested in under two weeks. I’m sure it helped that I was both a first class passenger and United screwed up in failing to authorize delivery of the bag.

Mark, however, had a bit more of a fight on his hand (consistent with my experiences contrasting Continental with United, and likely a sign of things to come with the new United, there’s a reason Continental’s complaint line is known as 1-800-WE-DON’T-CARE).

A helpful lady said that she had received a message that because of ‘weight and balance’ issues my bag had not been loaded. My bag, weighing 17kgs, had been left behind in Houston and would come the next day. It was, she confirmed, the only bag left behind that day.

My problem was that I was leaving on the first flight in the morning back to Houston, and so the agent said she would message Houston, have them hold the bag and I could collect it the next day.Just to be sure I called Continental from Panama City and they confirmed that there was a request in the luggage record. I informed them that I would need to buy some new clothes and the agent on the phone confirmed this would be OK…

…After a further 3 days and several calls to Continental my luggage turned up – that was the 6th day after I checked it in..

He filed a claim for $279.44 but was offered only ~ $75. Not finding any way to appeal, he went to the UK’s equivalent of small claims court. The costs involved are apparently added into judgments under a loser pays system. Continental defaulted, didn’t respond after Mark secured the judgment, and so he “asked that the Court send in the Bailiffs to seize goods to the value outstanding.”

Consumer advocated will cheer, though I’m left wondering whether this might not have been a bit of overkill, and whether this was really the best use of government resources.

Readers, what would you have done?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Well the bailiffs fee was eventually paid by Continental and no other government resources were hurt! All the fees are met by the claimant or defendant!

  2. @mark I’d be surprised if £100 actually covered the real cost of sending bailiffs (plural) to Heathrow, and you mention their second visit?

  3. I think this is a VERY good use of resources. Gary maybe you are happy to live in a world where the likes of CO can get away with this kind of behavior without recourse. If the court charges 100gbp for sending bailiffs then I am sure that is what – on average – it costs. Great story

  4. What point are you trying to make, Gary? That if the airline doesn’t fulfill its contract and refuses to respond to communication, then we, the consumer, should just let them walk all over us out of some Quixotic altruistic concern for minimizing the government’s effort to enforce contracts?

    Surely even your inner libertarian realizes that minimal government requires at the very least the enforcement of contracts. Where would we be without contracts?

    This is comical.

  5. @phonehome I was just asking whether it was worth going to the government and attempting to seize property over, seemed a bit overkill to me and was curious if it struck anyone else that way 🙂

  6. Most people wouldn’t file such a claim, but he felt frustrated enough to do it, and it worked out.

    Oh, and nice title for some extra clicks, nonetheless!

  7. I think he did exactly the right thing. Bad customer service is unforgivable.
    I hope he no longer plans to fly with CO/UA .. so they will have been hit twice by their lousy service.

  8. Slightly off-topic… I know a manufacturer that sent a Marshall to padlock a local retail store because they didn’t pay their bills.

    Squeaky wheel if you know what I mean.

    He certainly got their attention.

  9. The exact correct approach. I’d advocate nothing short of scorched earth in such a case. Whatever path most easily expedites appropriate compensation and quite frankly inflicts the most pain on Continental for ignoring their legal responsibilities is good by me. If the government’s true costs are not covered they should assess CO for more.

    There are certain actions that are trivial inconveniences for big entities like an airline but may be important for smaller parties or individuals. Vigorous enforcement of the rights of the individual in these situations is important.

  10. What government resources ? Bailiffs are a private company. Even so, it was Continental’s own fault for providing no adequate defense to protect against default/summary judgment.

  11. I would say, on the surface it seems to be overkill… However, since CO gets away with ignoring customer claims most of the time, so in a way, it seems the Blighty’s claim and the use of Gov’t resources is in some way acting as proxy-claim for everyone else who got screwed.

  12. When dealing with lost baggage compensation, it’s best if you know your rights and make sure that the airline knows that you do! If your bag was lost on an international trip subject to the Montreal Convention, the airline must reimburse you for expenses up to a certain amount (I think around $1500). They know this, but hope that you don’t! Lufthansa (who was fined by the DOT for these shenanigans) only offered to reimburse me for half of what I spent when my bags were lost for 9 days of my vacation unless I sent them all of the clothing I purchased! Once I brought up the Montreal Convention, they changed their tune and reimbursed me for everything.

  13. I +1 everybody else. Justice shouldn’t have a minimum price tag or be available only to those with deep pockets.

  14. Geez Gary… first the post about elite security lines, and now this.. tough crowd. 🙂

    I think it would be hard to get a jet for the amount owed, but i’d settle for one of the baggage handling vehicles. The irony would reinforce the point.

  15. Many years ago in Europe I had a judgement against a corporation who refused to pay after having lost in court 3 times over a period of 6 years on the same grounds.
    I had the judgement papers served to their banks to be paid but this corporation did not keep any cash and all transactions were done against lines of credit based on real estate and other assets.
    After 6 months of this little game I instructed my attorney to seize one of their building.
    My attorney did not want to do it because the money owned to me was well below the value of that real estate.
    I took a stand and indicated that once the building was seized I would be happy to share with the judge the fact his judgement was being ignored.
    When the corporation was notified by my attorney I got paid within 5 days plus interest.

  16. I think they would seize the airline’s bank account first. More complicated if they don’t have an account in the UK, hence seizing the aircraft.

  17. While I personally might not have had the gall (or more likely the dedication) to take it to this level, I applaud Marc for the entertainment value of this story alone. That said, I also think it’s generally a good thing for the world when folks are held accountable in this (frankly, very reasonable) way. Don’t think this is at all a manifestation of the vices of a litigious society a la suing your doctor for $20 MM when the risky procedure that saved your life happened to leave you with a scar…

  18. Good for this customer. He was just trying to be restored whole. As the other poster pointed out, he wasn’t trying to win a legal lottery here.

    I know the title was just an attention grabber but I bet none of the planes they have are completely unencumbered. The secured lenders would have had something to say about their planes being seized, even if CO didn’t.

  19. Gary – you wrote: “I’m sure it helped that I was both a first class passenger and United screwed up in failing to authorize delivery of the bag.” Did it not also help that you are a travel blogger?

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