I recently got back from a wonderful vacation in Northern California. While I am thankful to say all my luggage and fine California Wines made their way back to Pennsylvania safe and sound, my experience in digging up details got me curious and concerned. All this thinking got started early in the trip as we tried to determine the most cost-effective way to legallyairline baggage claim get wine we purchased while touring Sonoma wineries back home to Pennsylvania so we could cellar and enjoy our gems.

Pennsylvania is one of those red states where direct shipment is prohibited. While PA is not alone, all I can say is this convoluted system really sucks (my technical term) when it comes to the personal freedom to visit and patronize wineries across the U.S. and abroad (which adds a whole additional level of complexity). Apparently as a country we encourage consumerism in all forms except when it conflicts with the political agendas of certain states and their lawmakers.

I’ve read articles before that talk about the trials of lost luggage and what is covered and not covered in terms of airlines reimbursing you for your loss. The Travel Insider has a good series on what to do if your bag doesn’t appear on the carousel (part 1) and then what happens when your bags are officially declared lost (part 2).

Besides the dizzying array of insulting steps we need to take to get ourselves and the bags on the flight, I am getting a frustrated chuckle as I read Part 2 of this Travel Insider article. Did you know that if your luggage is lost the airline will only reimburse you depreciated value for your items?

Depreciated not replacement value

Airlines will only reimburse you for the depreciated, not replacement value, of your possessions. In other words, if you had a suit that you’ve owned for two years in your bag, and if it cost you $300 when you bought it, and would cost $400 for a suitable replacement, the airline won’t give you $400.

It won’t even give you $300. Instead, the airline might say ‘this suit is nearly worn out, it is two years old, we’ll only give you $150’.

Ok, so now you’re inconvenienced and too poor to purchase replacements to your clothing and other items. According to the article, though, all is not lost. It says to consider using all forms of insurance to get full reimbursement.

Other insurance coverage

The sad reality is that you’ll probably end up quite severely out of pocket after the airline’s partial reimbursement of the items you’ve lost.

However, all is not lost (just your luggage!). Simply claim the shortfall between what the airline paid you and the actual replacement cost on your regular home owner’s or renter’s insurance policy. You might also have free insurance as part of using your credit card to buy the ticket, or included as part of a travel insurance policy that you bought.

Most insurance companies will refuse to pay your claim if someone else has already paid your claim (you can’t ‘double dip’) but you can use your different types of insurance selectively to get best coverage and to avoid impacting on your renewal rate or claims history with your main home owner/renter insurance.

You might think this is just the way it goes if you want to travel by air and in many ways you are right. Here’s the catch — back to my wine. What got me thinking about this whole nonsense is that when I checked the wine (in a protected box with heavy fitted styrofoam as recommended by several wineries on my journey) the airline clerk had me sign this little tag which went on the boxes along with a myriad of “FRAGILE” stickers. I had already written “fragile” and “this end up” and my name and address on the boxes in case, but the stickers are standard issue and bridge the language barrier with a diverse force of baggage handlers (or throwers depending on who you watch). I didn’t think much of this until I was passing time on the way home reading the details of these little “limited release” stickers. There is a bunch of legalese that talks about the baggage being subject to the limitations of liability of various contracts and tariffs (that’s vague) and then the catcher

This is not the luggage ticket (baggage check) described in Article 4 of the Warsaw Convention

What the heck does that mean? So I surfed on over to Article 4. From what I could decipher from this document, apparently the airline needs to provide you a luggage ticket with the information mentioned in the article. Well, this computer generated ticket I received both for my luggage and had to sign for my wine items is the only baggage related ticket I get. Yet, if it says it doesn’t satisfy this Article 4, what does that mean? Does that mean I am effectively up a creek without a paddle if they lose my stuff. I was and remain very confused.

Back to the wine…. (have you noticed it is all about this premium wine?). According to the Travel Insider, here are the items airlines refuse to take any responsibility for:

Things the Airlines usually Refuse to be Liable For

Different airlines may have slightly different lists, but in general, they will usually refuse liability for the loss, delay, or damage to the following :

  • Antiques
  • Computer Equipment and related items
  • Documents (personal or business, negotiable papers)
  • Electronic Equipment
  • Film
  • Fragile Items
  • Irreplaceable Items
  • Jewelry
  • Keys
  • Manuscripts
  • Medication
  • Money
  • Paintings or one of a kind works of art
  • Perishable Items
  • Pets/Animals
  • Photographs
  • Photographic Equipment
  • Samples
  • Securities
  • Silverware
  • Watches

That means my fragile items are essentially play toys at the whim of a grossly underpaid and frustrated baggage handler and old baggage carousel. Now you might say – “Paula, don’t check fragile items as luggage, ship them via a carrier that will insure them.” Alas! back to my original point — it is illegal for me to do so. What this means is wine lovers in 17 prohibited states have to risk their precious stash to the whims of the airline and pray that nothing gets damaged because there is no other way to get it home (short of driving or bussing it cross country on your person). Because if it does get damaged not only are you out hundreds of dollars and up per case but also lose your wine as well.

Now before you all start posting comments saying – “just don’t buy wine”, you can save your breath. I only purchased wines that are not distributed outside of the wineries I visited so it’s not like I can get them anywhere else. Not to mention we love wine and it is a great joy and hobby to experience new things and then bring them home for future enjoyment. I’ve never been one to buckle to a stupid system created only to serve silly political interests and not the consumer.

What has been your experience with luggage? How about with transporting fragile or unique items like wine?

After this whole experience I feel like wine drinkers in the red states get to taste a little of what it is like to be in the minority like LGBT folks do everyday where the laws read — “special and unfair rules for you”.


Paula Gregorowicz is the Comfortable in Your Own Skin(tm) Coach and you can learn more at her website www.thepaulagcompany.com and blog www.coaching4lesbians.com .