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Life: When Accidents Happen

Real Simple Magazine

October 2004

Life: When Accidents Happen

By: Craig Offman

Now What? Fender benders, dog bites, dry-cleaning disasters, and more – know your rights when things go wrong.

"Mistakes are a fact of life. It is the response to error that counts." Nikki Giovanni, Of Liberation

SITUATION: You’ve just landed in Dallas for a big business meeting. Your luggage, meanwhile, is taking a vacation in an undisclosed location.

WHAT SHOULD HAPPEN: Avoid the line at the baggage-claim desk by filing a missing luggage report over the phone instead, suggests consumer travel-rights lawyer Alexander Anolik. “Each passenger takes 15 minutes to fill out the forms, and the guy behind the desk is like the cop who’s been demoted to the worst beat,” says Anolik, who is also a coauthor of Traveler’s Rights (Sphinx, $22). If you’re away from home, some airlines (Southwest, Northwest, and US Airways) will reimburse you up to $50 a day for toiletries, clothing, and other necessary expenses. If your bags never show up, you’re legally entitled to a total reimbursement of up to $2,500 for a domestic flight, if you can show receipts, though the airline will not reimburse you for such items as lost electronics, jewelry, or cash. You usually have to wait five days before you can claim your bag is permanently lost.

IF YOU’RE GETTING THE RUNAROUND: File a complaint with the Aviation Consumer Protection Division at the Department of Transportation. In rare instances, writing to the airline’s president or head of marketing may also help you get compensated.