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When picking up my bag from baggage claim at SXF, I realized that it's upside down. The ID sticker was on the bottom, and inside it was a mess. At home, I found one item broken, a marmalade glass:

Picture of damaged marmalade glass

See the dent in the lid. This is not a damage that happens with normal treatment.

To see what happens when I complain, I contacted easyJet, and asked for reimbursement. Their response, translated by me to English:

Regrettably, easyJet is not liable for the loss of money, jewelry, silverware, samples, business documents, electrical devices, or other valuable goods, independent of circumstances. Special rules apply to fragile and perishable goods like food.

The original document is barely comprehensible, in a language that only resembles German:

Original document, with private data removed

Does that mean that easyJet is not liable for damages to the contents of luggage?

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    The reality is that airline luggage is treated pretty roughly, and you are expected to prepare for that. "Upside down" is nothing, the luggage has probably been inverted several times. At GVA they used to have videos running somewhere in the airport showing their baggage handling system (almost all automated). You could see in that baggage was somestimes dropped significant distances, flipped end over end, or knocked from conveyer belts by large "flippers". Human handlers can often be seen throwing baggage on to belts. – CMaster Sep 18 '15 at 10:59
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    The language is indeed very poor but the third paragraph seems to confirm that they are hiding behind the fact that marmelade is food and do not, in principle, reject any liability for luggage contents. – Relaxed Sep 18 '15 at 11:47
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    @PavelPetrman After all, garbage bags are less than 1mm thick and when they break the handler has to clean up a stinky mess. Damn those rugged luggage cases. – Mindwin Sep 18 '15 at 13:43
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    The fact that you are shocked by your bag being returned to you upside down indicates that you are, shall we say, quite naive about what happens to bags at airports and almost certainly protected your jar of marmalade inadequately. – David Richerby Sep 18 '15 at 15:30
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    You can carry glass jars in checked luggage and get away with it, if you do so carefully. Something like: wrap jar in plastic bag to contain anything that leaks; wrap that in a towel or tshirt (not your best); finally place in the middle of your bag, between/in shoes/books etc. unless your case is very hard. For liquids (real liquids not airport security "liquids" a second plastic bag after the towel would be a good idea. Basically, protect it from getting smashed when (not if) it's dropped, protect everything else in case it breaks. You've learnt the hard way what happens. – Chris H Sep 18 '15 at 15:47
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The exact liability an airline will have for lost or damaged baggage is dependent on the airline (specifically, its Contract of Carriage or equivalent document) and the applicable laws of the country/countries involved.

In general, airlines are indeed liable for both the bag and its contents. For the specific case of easyJet, their liability policy says:

16.5 Damage to Baggage

The following conditions apply to all carriage of Baggage by Us:

16.5.1 in respect of Hold Luggage, We shall be liable to You for its destruction, loss or damage during the time it was in Our charge and to the extent that damage did not result from the inherent defect, quality or vice of the Baggage;

However, their baggage policy says (emphasis theirs):

19.4.11 You should not include in Your Hold Luggage fragile or perishable items, money, jewellery, precious metals, silverware, computers, electronic devices, negotiable papers, securities or other valuables, business documents, passports and other identification documents or samples and we accept no liability for them save as stated in Article 16.5.3 (Baggage, Damage to Baggage).

Oddly, Article 16.5.3 specifically refers to cabin luggage, not hold luggage:

16.5.3 We are not liable for any damage to Your Cabin Baggage to the extent caused or contributed to by Your negligence;

I suspect they meant to say Article 16.5.6, which says (emphasis mine):

16.5.6 We are not liable in any event in respect of loss or damage to Baggage which is not permitted to be carried pursuant to Article 20 (Dangerous Goods) or for any fragile, valuable, perishable articles or articles not packed in suitable containers that have been packed in Your Baggage contrary to the requirements of Article 19.12 (Baggage, Items Unacceptable as Baggage).

I would assume that Article 16.5.6 constitutes the 'special rules' they referred to in their response to you.

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    Actually, there is another source for all this, namely the Montreal Convention, where the language in article 16.5 originates. But none of this explicitly addresses the content/container aspect of the question. – Relaxed Sep 18 '15 at 15:07
  • Is the baggage even "in our [easyJet's] charge" while it's passing through the airport baggage handling system? – David Richerby Sep 18 '15 at 15:27
  • @Relaxed It's true that it doesn't explicitly state that it includes both container and contents, but the term 'hold luggage' is used throughout the document to refer to both, so it seems the same would apply to 16.5.1. Also, 19.4.11 and 16.5.6 would seem superfluous if 'hold luggage' didn't include both the container and the contents. – reirab Sep 18 '15 at 15:32
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    @DavidRicherby I believe so: it was handed to their representative at check-in, to get on their flight. They might use someone else to handle the bag through the airport and on to the plane, but they would be responsible for the activities of that contractor. – Andrew Leach Sep 18 '15 at 15:37
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    @DavidRicherby For the purpose of the Montreal Convention, which on an international flight supersedes any contract term tending to relieve the carrier of liability, the importance is that the baggage is under the carrier's control or in the care of "its servants or agents". – Calchas Sep 19 '15 at 0:54
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The airline is definitely liable for the contents as well but that's not what the answer you received is about. For example, you can get compensated if your luggage is lost completely and not only for the price of a new bag. But airlines do not have to accept liability for valuable items (unless you declared them as such) or improperly packed, fragile or perishable items. And apparently they are arguing that they are not responsible in this case simply because marmelade is food.

For you might be surprised by what counts as “normal treatment” for hold luggage. It all comes down to how you packed it, the mere fact the glass was broken really does not prove anything out of the ordinary happened. Next time you travel, fully expect your luggage to be thrown around, turned upside down several times, fall some distance from one conveyor belt to the next, hit other pieces of luggage, be stacked on a cart with four-five heavy bags on top of it, etc.

Beyond that, I don't know whether the details of easy jet's conditions of carriage or their application in this case would hold up in court but my personal experience with low-cost airlines is that they will keep you in a holding pattern with boilerplate answers and are even less helpful than legacy airlines (which could offer you something, not because they are liable but simply as a commercial gesture). The problem is that escalating things beyond an email (e.g. hiring a lawyer) is likely to be too costly to make sense, even if you had a strong case, which you do not.

One last option is to turn to social media. Airlines are sometimes more responsive that way, to avoid public shaming.

Incidentally, and without giving too much weight to some poorly translated boilerplate text, “unabhängig von den Umständen” presumably refers to the things listed in the first sentence, i.e. valuable items, not to everything you could have in your bag.

  • The question, though, is: Are they liable for damages to the inside of luggage, or are they only liable for damages to the bag itself? (low cost is relative - I paid almost 300 EUR for GVA-SXF) – feklee Sep 18 '15 at 10:11
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    @feklee They are definitely liable for the loss of the contents. But my point is that they can't possibly accept liability if you give them a thin cardboard box with fragile glass objects. What the bit you quoted hints at is the fact they don't consider themselves liable for valuable or fragile objects so whether they are liable for “contents” in general is moot. If your bag had been burnt down it would be something else. – Relaxed Sep 18 '15 at 10:21
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    A parcel-delivering friend said: assume the handlers will use the parcel/bag to play football (soccer). – gerrit Sep 18 '15 at 12:47
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    @gerrit Baggage handlers need to keep in practice in case they are required to fulfil their duty of kicking burning terrorists in the balls – user568458 Sep 18 '15 at 15:42
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    @feklee they can be liable for damages to the inside of luggage if they do something wrong - e.g. theft by employees, losing your luggage, etc. But if the damage is caused by normal transportation actions (including being flipped around, thrown around, subject to large temperature and pressure fluctations in the cargo hold) then the damage is simply not their fault even when caused by these actions, it's just a reasonably expected result of improperly packaging fragile items. – Peteris Sep 19 '15 at 8:02
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I don't know how things are in Germany or the UK, but in the United States you would never be able to recover for that in a court of law in a million years because the item was made out of glass. You can't just put glass unicorns worth millions in a piece of luggage, hand it to a baggage handler and expect to collect from them when it breaks, because the item is fragile. In English common law a bailment only creates a liability for foreseeable damages. Some kind of hidden vulnerability in the goods is solely the fault and responsibility of the bailee.

Of course, we are talking about Germany (?) here, which uses a different set of laws, which might be charitably called "whatever the hell the magistrate wants" laws. In countries under Napoleanic code type laws like France and Germany, there is no rule of written law, but everything is at the whim of the judges. Judges in such countries tend to be very hostile to plaintiffs.

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    English common law (and other laws) is superseded by the Montreal Convention when it comes to international air carriage. I agree that the clause in the convention relating to the "inherent quality or vice or defect of the cargo" will not work in the passenger's favour. – Calchas Sep 19 '15 at 0:55
  • LOL, you are obviously not a lawyer. Local courts do not recognize international treaties in most countries, including the United States and Germany. – Lemuel Gulliver Sep 19 '15 at 5:54
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    @Calchas No. Treaties do not supersede local laws; if necessary, they are implemented by modifying local laws. (So, for example, if your country signed a treaty with another, banning the use of Stack Exchange, your country would pass a new law to implement that, and you would be convicted of breaking that law, not of "breaking the treaty".) – David Richerby Sep 19 '15 at 7:59
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    @DavidRicherby That's not completely true. At least some courts in some countries do use some treaties directly to set statutes aside. Some parts of EU law, which ultimately derives from treaties, also have what's called a direct effect (but EU directives work in the way you describe, for the most part). – Relaxed Sep 19 '15 at 9:01
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    @DavidRicherby You are quite right, forgive my inexactness. However, the Convention is implemented into local law in its party states, and so far it is, it acts to supersede the previous law relating to air carrier liability for damages. – Calchas Sep 19 '15 at 17:09

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