Travel Troubleshooter

Finnair lost my luggage, won’t pay

Q: My fiancé and I recently flew from Honolulu to Paris via Los Angeles, Miami and Helsinki. Our flight to Miami was on American Airlines. Our Finnair flight from Miami to Helsinki was delayed, and we missed our connection to Paris.

My luggage was tagged to go directly from Honolulu to Paris, but it didn’t arrive in Paris. Finnair had no record of it. We filed the claim in Paris and received a reference number.

After waiting eight hours, we decided to hunt for the luggage ourselves. My fiancé is a veteran police officer. He made more than 80 international cellphone calls. His investigative skills are what tracked down the luggage. Through our persistent phone calls, we discovered that American Airlines never transferred my luggage to the Finnair contractor in Miami. We finally located the luggage in Miami and asked American to put it on the next Finnair flight to Helsinki, and then on to Paris. Our luggage finally was delivered around 11:30 p.m. the next day.

I requested a $262 reimbursement for incidentals from Finnair, but the airline rejected it because I filed past the 21-day limit from the time the baggage was received. I was not aware of the 21-day limit.

I have appealed to Finnair’s customer-care department, which offered a 70-euro voucher, but this is not an acceptable option. Finnair was the last segment of our flight, so it is responsible. Can you help us?

Lydia Kelley, Honolulu

A: American Airlines should have transferred your luggage to Finnair. But you’re correct, Finnair was responsible for delivering your luggage to you in Paris, and it didn’t – not until the next day.

Compensating passengers for incidentals while they wait for their luggage is something of a gray area. I’ve seen airline agents hand passengers like you cash to buy new clothes and toiletries. And I’ve seen them deny any responsibility.

The page dedicated to lost luggage on Finnair’s site (www.finnair.com/ca/gb/information-services/baggage/lost-delayed-damaged-baggage) doesn’t mention anything about compensation for incidentals, nor does it state that there’s a required 21-day window for applications. Rather, it asks you to fill out a baggage tracing form within 72 hours, which you did, and suggests you wait patiently while the airline finds your belongings.

I like the way you took the initiative on this one. You started contacting people until you got answers and results. (I list the names and numbers of both the Finnair and American customer-service managers on my consumer-advocacy website. Here are the Finnair contacts: http://elliott.org/company-contacts/finnair/. And here are the American contacts: http://elliott.org/company-contacts/american-airlines/.)

From my experience, the best time to negotiate reimbursement for incidentals is at the time your luggage is lost. Agents are often authorized to offer vouchers or allowances for clothes and toiletries while you wait for your belongings. If possible, make sure you have everything in writing.

Bottom line: Even though Finnair didn’t drop the ball on your luggage, it is technically responsible as the last operating carrier. A 70-euro credit is a good start, but it doesn’t cover the real expenses you had when you landed without luggage.

I contacted Finnair on your behalf. As a ”gesture of goodwill,” the airline agreed to cover $220 of your expenses, which you accepted.

Email Christopher Elliott at chris@elliott.org.

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