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What are you owed if an airline misplaces your luggage?

Last Updated Jan 2, 2018 at 12:40 pm EDT

Almost all of us have been there. Standing at a baggage carousel at an airport, hoping, praying our bags come down that little slide and into our waiting hands. Sadly, delayed bags are a reality of flying. It happens.

So when you arrive at an airport but your bags don’t, what are you entitled to? One air passenger rights advocate claims domestic travelers in this country are being stiffed out of hundreds of dollars — that we’re being misled by some Canadian airlines when it comes to compensation.

According to Gabor Lukacs, the founder of airpassengerrights.ca, when you take a domestic flight with WestJet you’re entitled to up to $2,000 within reason and with proof of purchase, when your checked bag is delayed.

“The rules already exist but they’re not being enforced,” Gabor said.

“You sit there and you wait and wait and it goes around and around. Eventually the carousal stops and you realize, ‘Hmm, the carousal has stopped.’ But you’re still missing two bags.”

Paula Cziranka says that was the reality for her and her family when they arrived at Toronto Pearson International Airport early in the morning on Dec. 15 for the holidays from Cambridge Bay, Nunavut. Two of their three bags were missing in action.

The bags were delivered after 7 p.m. the following day. Cziranka had to buy some medication for her son and essential toiletries for her family while they waited. They also had an event to attend so they had to buy clothes before the bags arrived. However, WestJet told Cziranka she was only entitled to $100 per bag, or $200 in total.

According to Lukacs, WestJet’s reply to Cziranka “is not simply misrepresentation; this is fraudulent misrepresentation. The airline has been told by the regulator what it has to do. It is binding. It’s an order.”

The case Lukacs is referencing is a November 2010 ruling by the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA). The complaint was filed by Lukacs against WestJet alleging at the time “that WestJet’s limit of liability of $250 per passenger, per incident, for damage to, or loss or delay of baggage carried between domestic points is unreasonable.”

The CTA sided with Lukacs and ordered WestJet to “revise its tariff applicable to domestic services to provide for a limit of liability for the carriage of baggage” to up to $2,000 per person, under current Canadian currency rates.

WestJet’s own domestic tariff states online if baggage doesn’t arrive on the same flight as the guest, the airline will in part, cover “basic liability” for any lost item up to about $2,000 Canadian, “including incidental expenses.”

“The information (Cziranka) received was correct,” said WestJet spokeswoman Lauren Stewart. “We offer $100 per bag for the purchase of incidental items when bags are delayed while we offer, as per the CTA, up to $1,800 for lost or damaged baggage. This is for bags that are not located after at least 20 days.”

“The airline does this in order to dissuade passengers from pursuing their rights,” Lukacs said. “That is the fraudulent element here. They do this not simply by stupidity; they do it for financial gain.”

The CTA said if passengers are not satisfied with how an airline has handled their issue or feel that it has not “applied its tariff,” they can file a complaint with the agency.

Every airline has its own tariff. For example, Air Canada’s domestic tariff states: “Liability for the loss of, damage to, or the delay in delivery of, baggage or other personal property shall not be more than $1,500 per passenger.”

These are limits, and a passenger must present a valid reason and proof of purchase for expenses. If your bag is delayed while travelling it doesn’t mean you’re automatically entitled to $1,500 or more.

Though Lukacs adds there are lots of valid examples where you may need to buy items when your bag is delayed. “You may be going to a one-day business meeting and you may legitimately incur $800 because you need to buy a suit for your meeting or you’re flying to a golf course vacation and you need to rent golf clubs.”

Though when it comes to WestJet and the policy they quoted to Cziranka, Lukacs doesn’t hold back.

“What WestJet has done here is called fraud,” he said. “I would like to be clear — if WestJet has a problem with it, I challenge them to sue me with defamation. I know I’m going to win.

“The evidence is clear here. They’re welcome to take me to court.”