After a long flight, arriving to your destination only to discover that your bag did not is a real drag. That unfortunate circumstance befell me last week — upon arrival to Hamburg, Germany, I made my way to the baggage carousel, but my duffel bag was nowhere to be found. It was a major inconvenience, since the bag contained all of my professional attire for the Aircraft Interiors Expo, where I became the first wheelchair user to test the prototype of a wheelchair space for airplanes.

John seated in business class on a Lufthansa Airbus A380 aircraft.

While I hoped my bag would arrive before the expo kicked off the next morning, that was not to be — I had to make a last-minute trip to a clothing store. The regulations surrounding lost or delayed luggage on international flights are derived from the Montreal Convention, which limits an airline’s liability to 1,288 Special Drawing Rights (SDR), worth about $1,714 USD as of June 2023.

This liability is a hard limit and, unless you have purchased additional insurance coverage, your total payout from an airline will not exceed the equivalent of 1,288 SDRs. As such, in purchasing items for use the next day, I made sure to buy clothes similar to those in my checked bag — if the bag ultimately proved to be lost, I didn’t want to waste part of that limit on throwaway items.

I purchased one pair of pants, a button-up shirt, and underwear from the Polo Ralph Lauren store in Hamburg. The total for those three items was 359.85 EUR, or about $387 USD… nearly a quarter of the airline’s liability limit.

John in his Permobil F3 backed partially into wheelchair securement space.

My baggage was ultimately located and I retrieved it from the airport the next day — whew! After I returned home to the United States, I filed a reimbursement request with Lufthansa and received a strange email in reply:

Lufthansa offers its customers the option of receiving 100% reimbursement for interim purchases of clothing, toiletries and undergarments if the clothing items (excluding toiletries and undergarments) are returned to Lufthansa. If the customer prefers to keep the purchased items, then we offer reimbursement at 50% for clothing and 100% of toiletries within liability guidelines and insofar as they do not exceed the maximum limit (corresponds to 1,288.00 special drawing rights) established by the Montreal Convention.

Kindly let us know your preference so that we can process your claim.

I’ve faced baggage delays numerous times in the past, and this was a new one for me — an airline proposing that I pay to keep the items purchased while the bag was lost! I wondered, if I did return those (now used) clothes, what would the airline do with them? Were they actually serious?

Given the high taxes imposed on clothing purchases in the EU and even with the 50% “discount” seemingly offered by the airline, I decided that I could still get a better deal on clothing in the United States. The pants I had purchased were the wrong size anyway, so I responded with the following:

Hello, I purchased a shirt, one pair of pants, and underwear. I will send the items to you at your expense (please send a prepaid shipping label) for the 100% reimbursement.

Thank you,
John Morris

Not long thereafter, I received another reply from customer relations at Lufthansa:

Our examination of the claim to a payment has shown that you are entitled to it. Therefore, we request that you provide us with your bank account information (ACH routing code not ABA code).

Thank you in advance for submitting the information, indicating your incident number (Feedback ID XXXXXX).

Despite this unpleasant experience, we look forward to welcoming you on board a Lufthansa flight again soon.

My claim was approved, with no mention of returning the items. The airline had bluffed, hoping they could convince me to accept a lower reimbursement rate in exchange for the clothing that I had purchased. Lufthansa doesn’t want my pants, but they do want to reach into my wallet if I’ll allow it.

The airline’s sneaky attempt to reduce their liability is entirely legal — they didn’t break any rules by offering this “deal,” and I suspect some travelers do take them up on the offer. If an airline proposes a similar offer to you, I would advise against accepting it — after a baggage delay, carriers are liable for the full cost of the items you purchased whether you’re able to return them or not.

In my view, the outfit I purchased in Hamburg is compensation for the inconvenience and my time spent dealing with the matter. Nice try, Lufthansa, but I’ll keep the new threads AND my money!

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