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Airlines cannot ignore damage claims for luggage, federal agency warns

Airlines cannot ignore damage claims for luggage, federal agency warns
The U.S. Department of Transportation has warned airlines that they must compensate travelers for damaged luggage beyond normal wear and tear. (Marcio Jose Sanchez)

The next time your luggage slides off of the baggage carousel with a broken wheel or a missing handle, don't hesitate to file a claim with your airline.

The U.S. Department of Transportation recently issued a notice to the nation's airlines, telling them that they are obligated to compensate travelers for damage to wheels, straps, zippers, handles and other luggage parts beyond normal wear and tear.

The department's aviation enforcement office said it discovered that "certain airlines" have been refusing to accept reports from passengers about damage to these luggage parts, in violation of consumer protection laws. The agency has the power to impose fines of up to $27,500, depending on the violation.

The department did not identify the airlines that have refused to take responsibility for such damage, but the websites for Southwest, American and several other major carriers say they are not responsible for damage to those parts.

"We are also not liable for torn, scratched, missing or telescopic handles, straps, zippers, wheels or wheel casings," states the Southwest website.

"American assumes no responsibility for damage to or loss of protruding baggage parts such as wheels, straps, pockets, pull handles, hanger hooks or other items attached to the baggage," American Airlines says on its website.

In an interview, American Airlines spokesman Matt Miller said the airline plans to change that language. "We intend to comply with the guidance," he said.

Southwest released a statement saying "we are reviewing their recent notice and will take the appropriate needed action."

To read more about travel, tourism and the airline industry, follow me on Twitter at @hugomartin.

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