Air Canada donation of couple’s missing luggage raises questions about what airlines can do with lost bags

Air Canada donation of couple’s missing luggage raises questions about what airlines can do with lost bags

Nakita Rees and Tom Wilson spent months tracking their lost luggage at their home in Cambridge, Ontario, after a honeymoon in September. The case has shed light on processes that require airlines – or at least Air Canada – to deliver and then sell unclaimed baggage. Nick Iwanyshyn/The Globe and Mail

The case of a couple from Cambridge, Ontario whose luggage was donated to charity by Air Canada AC-T despite being tracked with an AirTag draws fresh scrutiny of airlines’ long-standing but controversial practice of being considered lost luggage dispose.

Some legal experts and consumer advocates say that while airlines have never been authorized to dispose of lost baggage, the use of tracking devices by passengers could become a new test of the practice’s legal soundness.

Nakita Rees-Wilson and Thomas Wilson made national headlines with the story of how they rescued their missing luggage from a warehouse in Etobicoke, Ontario. The couple, who flew home from a trip to Europe on Air Canada in early September, said the airline left one of their bags in Montreal during a layover. They were able to track the location of the missing luggage for months via an Apple AirTag, a spinner-sized Bluetooth device that users can locate with their phones.

But the couple say Air Canada made no effort to track the bag based on the AirTag’s location, although they have shared it with the company on several occasions. Instead, the airline paid them compensation and gave away their bag to charity. It wasn’t until Mr. Wilson drove to the location of her bag and called the police that they were finally reunited with their luggage.

Airlines’ inability to locate a misplaced bag has never deprived passengers of their property rights, and the disposal of passengers’ belongings may raise criminal liability issues for the industry, said Marcus Bornfreund, a Toronto-based criminal defense attorney.

Ms Rees-Wilson and Mr Wilson’s baggage fiasco shows how tracking devices are giving consumers a new way to “challenge their baggage being marked as lost,” he said.

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Typically, airlines consider a bag lost when it lacks external identifying information, such as a name tag, and when enough time has passed for passengers to receive compensation, said John Gradek, coordinator of McGill University’s aviation management program.

Airlines often rely on third-party companies to destroy or salvage the bags and their contents after they’re in storage, he said, adding that Ms Rees-Wilson and Mr Wilson’s account suggests Air Canada is donating the luggage to charity.

Air Canada did not respond to a request for details on handling lost baggage, including the waiting time before baggage is gifted. Instead, the airline said it awarded the couple $2,300 in compensation in October.

Under current air travel regulations, Canadians are entitled to compensation of up to US$2,350 from an airline if they do not receive the missing baggage within 21 days. Passengers can seek additional compensation for damage suffered, said Gabor Lukacs, an air passenger rights advocate.

Ms Rees-Wilson and Mr Wilson’s baggage saga suggests that Air Canada — and likely other airlines as well — have not adequately updated their missing baggage records to systematically include passengers’ own information about where their bags are, Mr said Gradek.

“The technology available to the customer is vastly superior to the technology available to the airline,” he said.

In emails, WestJet and Air Transat said they include any information that passengers provide about the location of tracked bags as part of their misplaced baggage return efforts. Both carriers said they donate or discard bags that are unclaimed for 90 days.

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