Fliers Beware! Did You Let Airlines Damage Your Property?

If you travel with small children, you no doubt have taken a stroller, car seat or some other essential on board an aircraft. These days, with full flights, you’ll most likely have to gate check the item. This means leaving your item at the end of the jet way as …

you board, and picking it up after your flight in the same place, or at baggage claim. We have found that this is a fairly convenient strategy. In the rush of boarding and keeping track of kids and your belongings, you were probably asked to sign a tag which was then attached to your stroller. Like us, you probably didn’t bother reading the fine print. But after a recent flight on Northwest Airlines, we did, and we were surprised to learn what the airline’s legal department is up to… The set up… When you sign that tag, you are absolving the airline of responsibility for any damage to your stroller, car seat, etc. How? By stating that your item was already damaged when it was given to the agent at the gate. Of course you never said this – but it is what the fine print you signed contains. Here is the text of what is on Northwest Airlines’ Gate Luggage Claim Check: “”In consideration of carrier(s) transporting my property which has been damaged previously, I hereby release carrier(s) from liability resulting solely from such pre-existing damage.”” Below this text is a line to enter a description of the damage, and one for your signature. You can see a picture of an actual Gate Luggage Claim Check by searching for ‘check tag’ at Look for the pink tag. So what’s the big deal? By signing the tag, you are acknowledging that the item is already damaged! The airline is saying they won’t be responsible for this damage. That seems fair, but, here’s the kicker: it is hard to prove when damage occurs. So they’re covered if they ruin your stroller, because you said it was already damaged, and that gets them off the hook. In our scenario, we checked a brand new stroller, purchased just for this trip. If it was returned to us at our destination damaged, the airline would no doubt say that the damage occurred before we handed it over to them, and the tag that we signed is their proof that we acknowledged previous damage. Pretty sneaky! Again, on the surface the wording seems reasonable, as airlines can’t be responsible for damage that really does occur before they take possession. And it isn’t saying that they aren’t responsible if they damage the item. But because it is hard to prove when damage occurred, and since you signed the tag saying it was damaged previously, the airline is in the clear for any damage that they cause. The form does have a legitimate use, as I’m sure airlines do get strollers and car seats with existing damage. But the form should be rewritten so that the gate agent must identify existing damage in order to absolve the airline of responsibility. So what do I do? The next time you’re asked to sign a gate check tag, make sure you print ‘NO PREVIOUS DAMAGE’ clearly, above your signature. You can use the damage description line for this purpose. By doing this, you are establishing the fact that your item was not damaged when handed over to the airline. So if it comes back to you all mangled, it is clear that the airline must have caused the damage, for which they are then responsible.


November 28, 2007 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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