United Airlines broke my bag and here’s what happened

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Have you ever been patiently waiting for your checked luggage at the carousel only to find a giant hole punched through the middle? or the zipper ripped clean off? It’s always such a disappointment. Your first thought is probably, well they won’t do anything about it. And that’s fair! Often, it can feel like airlines don’t take responsibility for issues they deem outside their control, leaving you stuck in a a faraway airport or without assistance or compensation during a long delay. But did you know that many airlines have surprisingly great luggage coverage when your bags break along the journey?

Max and I discovered on our latest trip that United, and other airlines, actually handle broken luggage really well.

As our checked bag rounded the carousel and we saw a literal hole through the corner of it, I quickly googled what do. My first piece of advice? Do not walk out the doors of that airport before stopping at the baggage counter. Once you leave, you have little to no recourse.

While not all airlines are created equal, they typically handle damaged luggage in a few ways:

  1. Repairing the item by providing you a shipping label and sending back the repaired item
  2. Providing you with a stipend to purchase a new piece of luggage
  3. Providing you with a brand new piece of luggage in the airport

When we filed our claim, the United representative asked us how old the luggage was, what we paid for it and what the brand was. After a few minutes, she went back to their office and came out with a very similar, hard-shell, 30-inch suitcase from Traveler’s Choice. I was fully prepared to protest, but I was genuinely surprised and delighted.

We did have to repack our entire suitcase in the middle of the arrivals terminal in order to give her our broken suitcase, but it was worth the hassle. While I have seen online that some people are offered money to recoup their costs, etc, we were never offered anything other than a straight swap. In this case, it worked out in our favor as the luggage replacement was comparable and easy enough to handle.

So what do you do if your bag breaks during your journey? Here are our three tips:

  1. Proceed immediately to the baggage desk of the airline you traveled with. Prepare to present your boarding passes, ID and baggage tag. You typically have 24 hours on a domestic flight to report the damage and up to 7 days to report damage on an international ticket.
  2. Look up the brand and approximate value of your luggage beforehand to ensure you provide accurate information to the agent.
  3. If the first answer they provide you with does not sound reasonable, probe and ask what their policies entail (replacement versus repair versus check-in-hand). You will never get what you don’t ask for.

In our case, we lucked out and the whole process took about 20 minutes. Be sure to check your carrier’s regulations by google searching some combination of: “[airline] broken luggage policy”. Most airlines have a full webpage dedicated to this issue, as it happens all the time. Please note, Southwest Airlines requires that you report the issues within 4 hours in person at the check in counter.

Here are a few of the policies for major airlines:
American Airlines
United Airlines
Delta Airlines
Alaska Airlines


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