Qantas passenger's damaged luggage exposes little-known rule

If your checked baggage returns broken, you might find it difficult to receive compensation.

A Qantas passenger's complaint about a damaged suitcase which she'd checked in on an international flight has sparked a debate about airlines and their liability surrounding baggage while it's under their charge.

"I put a perfectly good Delsey suitcase on my flight from Hobart to Manila via Sydney and it came off with a hole smashed in the corner," Tasmanian resident Lesley Rogers told Yahoo News Australia, adding that she reported it to the Qantas baggage service in Manila.

"The lady said it was not going to be covered by Qantas. I was leaving the next day for Europe so replaced it with the same brand, but a smaller suitcase which cost me almost $800."

Qantas passenger's damaged suitcase
A Qantas passenger says her checked baggage was broken on a flight from Hobart to Manila, but a representative told her the airline is not liable for the damage. Source: Facebook

Ms Rogers also shared her experience in a Qantas Facebook group, dividing members over the issue of liability. Some claimed the suitcase manufacturer rather than Qantas should be held responsible, while many argued otherwise.

"It sounds more like an inferior-made suitcase. I would be going back to the manufacturer of the suitcase," one member responded, while another commented: "Unfortunately your bag is not wrapped in cotton wool, carefully carried to the plane and delicately placed inside. It travels on several conveyor belts, gets stacked in a bin, driven to a plane and conveyored [sic] up to the plane. Bags can and will be damaged."

Several members of the group also recounted similar experiences, sharing the tedious process of making a claim for Quantas compensation. "Your damaged suitcase is claimable but a near-impossible process. I'm still waiting even to get a return email from my case from April," one shared, while others said this was a baggage handler issue rather than a problem for the airline per se.

What Qantas says

Yahoo News Australia approached Qantas for clarification on the matter but was referred to regulations on the airline's website, which states that passengers whose baggage is damaged should "proceed to the airport baggage services counter to lodge a damaged bag report prior to leaving the airport".

The Qantas website also states that they are "not liable for damage that occurs due to an inherent defect, quality or vice of the baggage or due to wear and tear". This they add, may include cuts, scratches and dents, damage to retractable or fixed luggage handles, external items missing from the bag, or damage to the inside contents of a bag if they were not suitably packed for transportation.

Airline responsibility limited

While airlines in general deny responsibility for damages similar to what Qantas mentions on its website, passengers may be entitled to compensation if the airline can be found to be at fault.

Airlines are governed by the Montreal Convention of 1999, part of which "establishes airline liability in the case of death or injury to passengers, as well as in cases of delay, damage or loss of baggage and cargo".

The international treaty states: "The carrier is liable for damage sustained in case of destruction or loss of, or of damage to, checked baggage upon condition only that the event which caused the destruction, loss or damage took place on board the aircraft or during any period within which the checked baggage was in the charge of the carrier."

However, it also defines the limitations of airline liability, stating: "The carrier is not liable if and to the extent that the damage resulted from the inherent defect, quality or vice of the baggage."

Ms Rogers revealed that she has started her claim through her insurance company and intends to see this through with Qantas.

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