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Airline denies liability for damaged luggage

Flysafair offers meagre compensation for bag ripped apart during handling

Joburg businesswoman's brand new R4,000 luggage bag was ripped apart by airport staff.
Joburg businesswoman's brand new R4,000 luggage bag was ripped apart by airport staff.
Image: Supplied

What was meant to be a festive holiday trip to distress in Cape Town became a nightmare for a Joburg businesswoman after her brand-new R4,000 luggage bag was ripped apart by airport staff.

Now FlySafair is offering to compensate Michelle Blumenau only R900 for her R4,000 bag which translate to a loss of R3,100. She had bought the Celline luggage bag in Sandton on December 18 last year, a day before she travelled to Cape Town.

Her plane landed at noon on December 19 in Cape Town from OR Tambo International Airport. 

It was the first bag to come off the carousel. It looked like it had exploded. I had not owned the new bag for 24 hours. The handle no longer worked, the metal inner lining was mangled and the zips were ripped. It was so badly damaged it could not be repaired. My suitcase was destroyed,” Blumenau told Sowetan Consumer on Friday.

She said no items were taken from the bag and all her cosmetics and clothing were not damaged. “The inner nylon parachute material inside the case is too strong and it protected the contents. However, the outside part of the bag was completely shuttered and it looked like someone ran over it,” said Blumenau.

She lodged a complaint with the airline and carried on with her holiday. She also bought the same Cellini bag in Cape Town ahead of her return flight to Joburg.

She claims that she received an email from the airline stating that it accepted no responsibility for the damage. However, Blumenau pleaded with them to reconsider. She later received a second email from FlySafair, and this time they conceded to a R900 compensation. 

“Your claim was approved for a compensation value of R900. Unfortunately, due to the fact that there are other parties involved with baggage handling at the airport, we cannot compensate the full monitory value claimed for,” wrote Mikyle Reeby from the airline in an email message to Blumenau.

According to the luggage-handling policy, FlySafair offers limited liability. Their policy states: You accept and agree that the processing of your luggage is managed by several parties other than FlySafair, and that while we will use all care, diligence and skill at our disposal to look after your items, we can only accept a limited liability for any losses or damages. FlySafair will not be liable for damage to passengers or any checked-in luggage unless such damage is caused by our negligence and such passenger or such luggage was within our control or custody.”

Joburg businesswoman's brand new R4,000 luggage bag was ripped apart by airport staff.
Joburg businesswoman's brand new R4,000 luggage bag was ripped apart by airport staff.
Image: Supplied

Blumenau said such rules are unfair to travellers. “I've lost so much money and when we [customer] get to the airport we give out bags to the airline staff and we expect them to take care of them and now they are telling me about limited liability when my luggage is actually under their control,” remarked Blumenau. 

In December 2018m, Acsa released a statement explaining how luggage is being handled in its airports. At the time, they had been facing many complaints of luggage pilfering which continue to exist. 

The company said airlines were responsible for the hiring of ground handling companies to transport bags to and from aircraft. Acsa only provides baggage handling infrastructure such as conveyor systems, luggage tag scanners and security scanners. Ground handling employees are monitored by CCTV and are subjected to polygraph tests should there be a suspicion of theft. 

“However, as with other forms of crime, we would urge passengers to take sensible precautions. Most important is to heed the advice of all airlines not to pack valuables such as jewellery, laptops, cameras and other devices in checked-in bags,” warned Acsa. 

FlySair said it only accepts limited liability because passenger bags are handled by different people at the airport and some of these workers are not necessarily their employees. According to the airline, the R900 compensation was based on an International Air Transport Association (IATA) guided set of principles.

 “As a business, FlySafair can only accept liability for the consequences of risks that it can manage. While we acknowledge the fact that Ms Blumenau’s luggage was damaged, the luggage management system is largely handled by parties outside of the employ of FlySafair or any other airline.  As an airline, we are responsible for the collection of customer bags only. After collection, bags are surrendered to the airport system, where they are screened and sorted by parties employed and/or contracted by a separate entity with no association to FlySafair. The management and maintenance of this automated baggage sortation system is the responsibility of this third party,” said the airline in its statement on Tuesday.

“Unfortunately, incidents can occur as luggage moves through these processes, including both human and mechanical processes. As an airline, we have no way of managing the maintenance of these systems to ensure people’s property is not damaged. This is the case across all airlines,” added the airline.

This story has been updated with an official comment from the airline.


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