This past week I was contacted about a photographer traveling on Delta Airlines from Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, via both Salt Lake City International and JFK International.
He had a roller carry-on bag filled with his expensive photographic equipment. The bag fully met Delta’s carry-on size requirements of 22″ x 14″ x 9″ (56 x 36 x 23 cm).
On the Salt Lake City to New York flight, he was forced to check the bag as the flight attendants said they were “out of space.” They apparently wouldn’t let him take the bag on board to see if he could possibly stow it. He explained it contained photographic gear worth in excess of $20,000. They still wouldn’t let him try to stow it on-board the Boeing 737–800′s cabin.
A flight attendant took the bag, and returned with a baggage claim check. It had been checked through to Fort Lauderdale.
When he got to Fort Lauderdale, the bag wasn’t there. He finally got it the next day. It felt light. At the Delta Baggage Claim Office, where he opened it, he discovered it was a mess inside.
An expensive DSLR camera, lens, electronic flash, memory cards and other items were missing. Another lens was seriously damaged. The replacement cost of the missing and damaged equipment was $9,050.
Had the photographer planned better and understood Delta’s rules, it is highly unlikely he would have had to check his bag, despite the flight attendants stating they were “out of space.”
All air travelers bringing valuables and breakables on trips face the same issues as the photographer. Valuables and breakables include laptop computers, iPads and other tablets, jewelry, any electronic gear, etc.
Prevention of the problem is far better than putting in a claim for a loss. The photographer missed his scheduled shoot start and any reimbursement from Delta won’t come close to covering the replacement and repair cost of the missing and damaged equipment.
What should the photographer, or any traveler bringing valuables and breakables, do to prevent a similar problem?
Every air traveler must understand the baggage rules for the airline(s) they’re flying.
The rules under which each passenger flies are defined in the airlines’ contracts of carriage (COC). You can usually find the COCs on the airlines’ websites, like this one for Delta Airlines.
The Delta Airlines COC for domestic flights states, like other US airlines, fragile, perishable, or precious (valuable) items will be exempt from airline liability in checked baggage, unless at check-in, the passenger declares them and Delta accepts them. Moreover, on domestic flights, like other US airlines, the maximum liability Delta assumes is $3,300, though you can increase that to $5,000 for a fee. Reimbursements are based on the depreciated value of the lost, stolen, or damaged belongings, not their original or replacement cost.
For the photographer, that meant, if the bag was never recovered, he would have had a loss of more than $15,000 (75 percent-plus) of his cost to replace his equipment.
That’s a bad deal. It doesn’t make sense to put valuables and breakables in any luggage which gets checked in. Travelers must, to the extent possible, ensure they keep their valuables and breakables in a carry-on bag they can take aboard every flight they board.
How can that be accomplished? Each traveler should ensure, to the extent possible, that their bag with valuables and breakables can be stowed under the seat in front of them.
Every traveler must realize airlines don’t guarantee passengers space in airplanes’ overhead bins. They don’t even guarantee each passenger space for storage under the seat in front of them. For example, many exit rows, and all bulkhead seats, have no seats in front of them. Some seats have obstructions which prevent bags of any reasonable size to be stowed underneath them. Some seats, such as window seats on regional jets, have a severely narrowed space underneath them.
That being said, no passenger is normally permitted to put anything under the seat in front of another passenger. Each passenger has the right to use that space themselves, if it exists. The photographer should have insisted (courteously) the flight attendants let him try to stow his photo equipment bag under the seat in front of him.
Before leaving on a trip, each passenger should determine the type of plane used for each leg of the flights. That’s essential, as some planes have substantially reduced capacity for carry-on luggage, both under seats and in the overhead bin.
Regional jets typically have very small spaces for carry-on luggage under their window seats due to the curvature of the cabin walls, but the aisle seats have more room, similar to larger narrow body jets. Their overhead bins are typically quite small.
By knowing which airplanes you’re flying, you can determine which is the most restrictive. You can determine which seats have under-seat storage, and how large the space is, to make sure your carry-on bag with breakables and valuables can be accommodated. You can also determine the size bag the overhead bins will accommodate.
SeatGuru.com has a great deal of information about overhead bin sizes and problem seats. Many travel forums, such as ConsumerTraveler.com’s forums have seasoned travelers and travel agents who can help with overhead bin and under-seat stowage problems and dimensions. DogJaunt has great under-seat information for many planes.
If you’re in First Class, or certain you’ll have early boarding, you’ll still need to make sure your plane will have overhead bins able to accommodate your valuables and breakables carry-on bag, or you’ll still have to make sure your bag will be able to fit under the seat in front of you.