The final step of my move across Canada in early 2016 was to take a flight out to Victoria BC. I chose to bring my home server with me on the flight as I wanted to get it back up and running as soon as possible rather than having it sit in a moving box for months. Unfortunately, it was damaged by Air Canada during transit.
The computer was packed in the box the case came in, along with all the foam padding that it was originally shipped with. At the airport the computer was marked as fragile by the airline at my request. When I received the box on the other end the internals of the computer had been shaken violently enough to cause the hard drive cages to break loose from their mountings. This had caused permanent damage to the case, potential damage to the drives, and an unknown amount damage to other internals of the computer caused by the violent treatment.
This led to a damaged baggage claim being filled with the Air Canada baggage department to try and recoup some of the loss in value caused by their damage to my computer.
The process for submit a damaged baggage claim through Air Canada is, unsurprisingly, quite convoluted. Most of literature on the website directed submissions to send be sent as a physical letter, which I find unacceptable in 2016. It took ages to find a digital form to submit a damaged baggage claim. . A further issue was that it took multiple calls and transfers between departments to not only make sure that my claim was submitted, but to find someone to confirm that the online form was even a valid way to submit a claim.
After the month that it took to get a response back from Air Canada the news was not positive. The reason given for denying my claim was that their “acceptance of carriage is not acceptance of liability”. The vagueness and generality of that statement brings into question why they bother offering a damaged baggage claim process at all. It would be so easy to just dismiss all possible claims which this statement.
One has to take a closer look at the air travel and airline documentation to get a better understanding of what responsibilities the airline has to their passengers and their luggage.
These General Rules Tariff are made intentionally difficult to read and search as the documentation published by Air Canada is a badly scanned version of the original document. Not only does the document not actually include any digital text (it is all an image) but the image suffers from discolouration and distortion from the poor quality scanning job performed on the document.
According to the Air Canada Limits of Liability document the limits of liability for loss or damage to baggage is $1500. My checked baggage that was damaged while in their possession was within this $1500 limit.
According to the Air Canada Canadian General Rules Tariff, Section V – Baggage, Subsection (F) Fragile Items, the airline will only accept fragile items as checked baggage if it is “suitably and adequately packaged”, which my computer was. It was packaged in a “container specifically designed for shipping such items” as it was in the OEM box with all the requisite foam pieces.
Nowhere in Section 230AC – Liability–Baggage does the airline state that “acceptance of carriage is not acceptance of liability”. In fact the section reiterates what they mentioned earlier about liability applying to only accurately valued and correctly packaged bags (which mine were). By the terms outlines in these documents Air Canada should have been responsible for the bag that I left in their care.
But by being allowed to process their own complaints the airline are able to perpetuate the obvious bias and economic incentive they have to deny as many claims as possible. Individual passengers are always going to lose out if they have no means of submitting a claim to an un-bias, objective, third-party for consideration. Airlines also know that it is financially un-viable to pursue legal action over the damage when legal fees will be in the thousands and the bag needed to be worth less then $1500 to qualify anyway.
The implication of this is that the airline really doesn’t have to take proper care of any luggage they transport as they really aren’t going to be held responsible for its well-being while it in their care. With such a broken and deceptive process in place right now it would be so much simpler to just be upfront with passengers and say the airline is not responsible for what they transport rather than giving passengers the illusion that their luggage is in safe hands.
This leaves passengers facing a fraudulent claims process made intentionally vague, complex, and tedious to disincentivise people from pursuing a claim. Those who do chose to file a claim can rest assured they will be effortlessly turned down by the catch-all legalese provided as a response.