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Flight delays, cancellations, and crowded airports are all a part of traveling. As a frequent traveler, I thought I had experienced it all, until a recent flight on Southwest. A bag I had checked in was completely shredded from the airline’s conveyor belt.

southwest bag damage
My Southwest bag damage. Photo by Claire Tak

Southwest Bag Damage

This happened on a quick, one-hour flight from Burbank to Oakland. My small, fabric duffel bag was ripped on one side. It was so shredded, in fact, that I’m surprised the contents of the bag didn’t spill out as I walked out of the airport. It appeared to be burned with black stains outlining the holes.

To make matters worse, I stuffed my favorite travel backpack and a larger duffel bag inside, and they were also ruined.

Here are three valuable lessons I learned after going through this ordeal and speaking with a Southwest Airline baggage representative. Certain rules and procedures may also hold true for other airlines as well, but be sure to call or check their website for specific details.

Lesson #1: Always Examine Your Bags Carefully After You Pick Them Up From Baggage Claim

When the bag came tumbling down the conveyor belt in Oakland, it happened to plop down on the side that wasn’t ripped, so I didn’t realize my bag was damaged until I had already left the airport.

Don’t make the same mistake I did and walk out without carefully looking at the bag. Even if you always carry a hard case suitcase and aren’t worried about damage, you should always check things like cracks, destroyed handles, wheels, straps, or holes. Remember that minor scuffs and wear and tear are a normal part of the process and airlines won’t reimburse you for things like that.

If you’ve already left the airport and noticed the damage after you’ve gotten home, call the airline immediately. Ask for the baggage claim department so you can speak to a representative who can help you open a claim to report the damage.

For Southwest, you only have a four-hour window in which you can call and make a claim that your luggage or bags were damaged. The best-case scenario is noticing it right away and then walking over to the airline’s baggage claim desk to alert them.

Other airlines may have different policies in which you are allotted a certain amount of time to report the incident, but the general consensus is: ASAP.

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Lesson #2: Look Inside the Bag for Other Items That May Have Been Damaged Before You Make the Claim

Before you call or walk over to the baggage claim area to report the damage, open the bag to make sure the contents inside aren’t damaged too. I made the mistake of not carefully examining the items inside the bag until after I called and completed my claim with Southwest.

After hanging up, I took out the backpack and other duffel bag I had stuffed into the damaged one and realized the left part of the front zipper of my backpack was burned. The zipper pulley was also snapped off.

The zipper on my other bag was ruined.

Normally, I would’ve let it slide, but it’s my favorite travel backpack! The front zipper being broken makes the valuable front pocket unusable.

The larger duffel bag also had large holes in the corner. Bummer.

I decided to call back.

I told the agent I noticed more damage to the inside contents of the bag and she said that once a claim has started, you can’t open another one. What the agent did, however, was add a note to the claim, stating the additional damages. She also noted the time I called, since it was almost immediately after my initial call. Again, this goes back to the window you have to call and alert them of the situation.

Lesson #3: Keep Your Luggage Tags, Ticket, and Take Photos of the Bag

Take pictures of your bags and tickets to use as a reference.

 

You will need your ticket, baggage tags, and any other travel documents they may ask for. Try to keep your tags still attached to the damaged items, if you can. I ripped mine off and threw them away as soon as I got home. I later dug them out of the trash after speaking with the Southwest agent.

Take clear photos of the parts that were damaged so you can send them along with the claim.

With Southwest, I was asked about what happened, and the report was noted by the agent. I was emailed a claim form 24 hours later and sent them the requested documentation via a link they shared. This link directed me back to a Southwest claims portal.

From there, I filled out my personal information. I attached images of the ticket, luggage tags, photos of all damaged items, and a detailed description of how the items were damaged.

I was also asked for the receipt of the items that were damaged. But, since most of them were well over five years old, I didn’t have the receipts. So, I estimated how much I paid for them.

They said the claim would likely be processed and that I should expect to hear from someone in 30 days.

A summary of what was sent to Southwest.

Keep All Damaged Goods Until the Claim is Resolved

Southwest also advised me to keep my damaged bag (don’t throw it away) until after the claim has been resolved. In my case, it probably can’t be sent for repairs. But if it was a pricey piece of luggage that I wanted to be repaired, Southwest asks that I repair it within 21 days from the date of occurrence and to keep all receipts.

If the bag can’t be repaired, it will likely be replaced with a similar bag. Otherwise, I will simply be reimbursed (the claim is still pending). The reimbursement may be based on the value of the bag, plus its depreciation.

Timeliness is Key in Southwest Bag Damage and Any Other Airline

Traveling isn’t always easy, and sometimes your bags may get badly damaged. The name of the game is timeliness. Once you notice the damage, you need to call or report it at the airport.

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Claire Tak
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