The adventures of the yellow suitcase, the XNUMXst century version, or How to defend your rights if your flight is canceled - ForumDaily
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The Adventures of the Yellow Suitcase: How to Assert Your Rights When an Airline Wreaks Havoc on Your Vacation

By coincidence, this story really happened with a yellow Samsonite suitcase, and with its owner - my mother. I decided to share this story because I believe it will be useful to many.

Photo: IStock

In August 2023, my entire family, including my children, my mother and, in fact, me, ended up in Eastern Europe, from where we had to fly away in different directions. My mother had to fly from Prague to New York, the children to Madrid, but I didn’t have to fly anywhere, I still had things to do.

I bought my mother a ticket to New York on August 17, by Lufthansa with a transfer in Munich. And children - tickets for a direct flight to Madrid on August 19. And then my mother insisted that my 20-year-old son Maxim accompany her to Munich. Everyone thought something different to themselves, but in the end I bought tickets for Maxim - from Prague to Munich on August 17, and from Munich to Prague on August 18. My youngest 17-year-old son expressed a desire to stay in Prague.

Since I paid for Maxim’s tickets and his hotel stay in Munich, I figured there should be some benefit for me. Thus, I arranged for him to meet with my client in Munich, who was going to deliver documents and money on my behalf.

Had anyone observed these intertwined circumstances from a distance, they might have assumed meticulous planning and foresight were at play. But that was far from the truth.

Flight LH1691 departed Prague with a one-hour delay, and the chances of catching the connecting flight LH412 were slim. But my mother made it – the gate closed just after her arrival. With a sense of accomplishment, Maxim ventured into Munich’s city center to meet with my client. Meanwhile, I was about to go to sleep, preparing for a long day of work, but I was still awaiting news from Maxim confirming he indeed had met with the client and received the documents.

An hour after the gate had been closed, I got a call from my mother, which was startling, to say the least, since the flight should have been well on its way. She said that they were expecting severe turbulence, and as a result, the flight would most likely arrive in New York with a significant delay. An hour later, the plane hadn’t even taken off, and all passengers were asked to disembark. I called Maxim and instructed him to return to the airport, and then I called the client to inform him that the meeting was canceled.

“Well, of course,” the client objected. “I’m bringing documents and money for you, and, besides, I’m bringing an umbrella for your son, there’s a storm warning, you can’t do without an umbrella.” The son met him and went back to the airport.

The unimaginable was happening at the airport. All flights have been cancelled. The luggage of all passengers was lost (in case of cancellation of the next flight, the luggage should have been given to the passengers, but was not given). They didn’t release him the next morning either. The line at the Lufthansa counter was a couple of thousand people long, all the chairs in the waiting area were occupied, people were sleeping on the floor.

I received an email from Lufthansa with a thousand apologies and an offer to choose an alternative flight online. But neither on August 17, nor on August 18, nor even on August 19, Lufthansa could offer any alternatives.

Photo by the author

I started calling the support service in the hope of resolving the issue over the phone, but I ran into scammers who pretended to be Lufthansa, and, to my shame, I could not immediately recognize it. Even knowing that in the event of a flight cancellation, any airline is obliged to offer a free replacement, I almost believed that when purchasing a ticket in a higher class, an additional payment was required, and I was ready to do it. My favorite travel agent, who lives and works in New York, refused to buy me another ticket, citing the following reason: Lufthansa MUST. And if Lufthansa doesn’t send you to New York now, and you fly with another company, then you won’t get anything from Lufthansa later.”

“But even Lufthansa asks for additional payment,” I objected.

Lufthansa? Additional payment? You're serious, right? Lufthansa, whose business class costs $9, requires you to pay extra? Girls, did you hear? “Lufthansa has gone completely crazy and is demanding an additional payment from Karina,” the travel agent retorted. Then something clicked in my head and I understood. Deception! I realized that all this time I had not been talking on the phone with Lufthansa.

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Meanwhile, my mother and my son, having missed the ten-kilometer line at the Lufthansa counter, took a hotel room and went there to spend the night. The room was terribly expensive, but, as they say, half a kingdom for a horse - any money to avoid stress. And it’s good that my Maxim was next to my mother - calm, balanced, thoughtful and with extensive experience in traveling around the world.

Meanwhile, I was desperately searching for the ways my mother could depart from Munich before my son boarded his return flight to Prague at 11:00 on August 18. But there were no tickets. Nothing. No tickets to New York, Boston, or Washington… One by one, I typed different cities, just to get to the US, but there was nothing, zero.

"Well?" — my travel agent from New York called me at 3 am (it was the height of their working day there).

“Nothing,” I answered doomedly. “Not a single option.”

“Okay,” she told me condescendingly. - There is one option. But I won’t order this ticket for you. Because I don't want to be responsible for your stupidity. Lufthansa must provide you with everything. If you send your mother not by Lufthansa, your money is crying, no one will return anything to you. So if you want this ticket, buy it yourself, I wash my hands of it. Air Europa, departure August 18 at 10 am.”

When I went to the Air Europa website with a sinking heart, there was just one ticket left. The next day, my mother departed and successfully landed in New York. My son departed from Munich an hour after my mother and landed in Prague again.

Lufthansa indeed offered a free alternative for the canceled flight. On August 17th, 18 hours after the flight on August 22th had been canceled, I received a notification that a substitute flight was available on August 22nd from Frankfurt. To get from Munich to Frankfurt, the passengers had to travel by train. No one cared whether the passengers wanted to stay in Germany, or if they wanted to travel between cities, and spend money on a hotel stay and meals. One could consider that the adventure would have ended, if not for the money spent on the new ticket, hotel room, taxi, and, of course, the lost luggage.

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My mother arrived in New York with a belt bag containing just her passport, wallet, and keys. Everything else remained tangled in oblivion at Munich Airport. In her suitcase, my mother had placed a backpack to travel lightly, and back in April, I had attached an Air Tag to that very backpack when my younger, underage son decided to go to Miami for spring break on his own. Thus, the tag stayed with the backpack, playing its role in making our luggage traceable.

The Montreal Convention that I had to study promptly came to the rescue. The Convention was adopted in 1999 and and it’s currently signed by 119 countries. It governs the transportation from one country that signed the convention to any other country that is also a signatory. Transportation within that country does not fall under the convention. The Montreal Convention regulates airline liability in the case of a delay and cancellation, as well as loss or damage of luggage.

I wrote to Lufthansa every day: return the money and return the suitcase, I justified it, referring to the laws. The answer to me was silence. I almost believed that I was probably doing something wrong if law-abiding Germans were ignoring the requirements of an international treaty. But no. They just thought...

In mid-September, when I was no longer expecting or hoping for anything, looking on the Internet for a new yellow Samsonite suitcase and being upset by its cost, I received a response from Lufthansa. Representatives of the company wrote to me that Lufthansa did not want to test my angelic patience at all, but was busy with arithmetic calculations all this time. They calculated that they should refund my credit card for the unused ticket from Prague to New York, pay the difference in fares between the price of the old ticket and the new one, cover the cost of hotel, food, taxi, and also reimburse the cost of essential items that had to buy as a result of luggage delays.

That same day, my phone’s Air Tag started showing movement; our yellow suitcase was on the move. Maxim rushed to the computer to check for luggage status, but there were no updates, even though the Air Tag indicated that the suitcase was moving along the runway. The following morning, we received a notification that the luggage had been found and was on its way to New York.

Photo by the author

In conclusion, this story highlights two key points. Firstly, whenever you travel, place an Air Tag in each suitcase. It can be a lifesaver If your suitcase goes missing. And secondly, and perhaps less obvious but equally important, if your international flight is delayed or canceled, remember that the law is on your side.

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