Not Above the Law

Lost luggage and layover blues

Lost luggage

Waiting for lost luggage

Lost luggage art installation__Sacramento Int'l Airport

[ca.travel.yahoo.com - May.09]

A frequent flyer in Winnipeg is claiming a significant victory for fuming air travellers with lost or broken luggage after the Canadian Transportation Agency upheld his complaint about Air Canada's baggage handling policy.

"I see this as a landmark decision in passenger rights. It tells the airlines 'You are not above the law,' " said Gabor Lukacs, 26, an assistant professor of mathematics at the University of Manitoba.

Lukacs filed the complaint over Air Canada's policy that it's not responsible for delayed or damaged baggage after returning to Winnipeg from a trip last fall. He said he was prompted by an airline notice about claims not being accepted for anything from scratches to missing straps, and was reminded of past aggravation over lost and damaged bags.

"I thought that it would give me a kind of moral high ground to be struggling for something where I'm not personally affected by it in any immediate way. It's not that I'm fighting for money. I'm fighting for something which is for everybody," he said.

The CTA - an independent federal agency responsible for dispute resolution and economic regulation in the Canadian transportation industry - ruled May 13 that Air Canada's policy violates both international conventions and Canadian law and must be changed within 90 days.

The airline has 45 days from the ruling to argue why it should not be required to alter its own policies on the issues.

Isabelle Arthur, a spokeswoman for Air Canada, said the airline is currently reviewing the ruling and is not in a position to comment.

Lukacs said airlines have an overwhelming financial advantage because they set the conditions, and individual passengers must go to court to challenge them.

"Who would go through the trouble of actually suing an airline for $50 or even $500 of damage to luggage. It's not worth it because you will have to hire a lawyer and they will probably charge you $5,000 or $10,000," he said.

Lukacs said he would like to see other passengers follow his lead and take their own action on problems facing the air travelling public. "My dream would be to set up some kind of non-governmental organization that deals with providing accurate information and perhaps assistance to passengers who have problems."

He also said he's pleased that Winnipeg NDP MP Jim Maloway is behind an airline passengers' bill of rights.

Lukacs, a native of Hungary, has taken on the airline industry in the past. Three years ago he agreed to a $6,000 settlement in a Nova Scotia court after he missed a conference because of a cancelled Continental Airlines flight.

He recently won a partial victory against Skywest Airlines in Manitoba Court of Queens Bench, but he's not satisfied with the award and has filed a motion for leave to appeal.

"I think there is a major consumer crisis here with what airlines are doing. I think passengers have to get organized and make their voices heard," he said.