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We gave a new smartphone to some friends to take to my in-laws in Iran. We turned off the phone before we gave it to them. They were flying with Qatar Airways. They had one stop in Doha. When they arrived the smartphone was missing. We later found out through our google account that the phone was turned on and the gmail account on the phone was accessed in Qatar.

I know that we shouldn't have put a valuable item in the checked baggage. But in this case, a lot of their items were valuable and they didn't have room to put the smart phone in their carry-on.

I'm wondering if there is any recourse? If the phone was turned on while on Layover in Qatar, so no other traveler could have taken it, doesn't this mean that only an employee of Qatar Airways could be responsible (that is what I am assuming)?

Qatar Airways sent a response saying that according to their Terms and Conditions, they are not responsible. But I'm hoping there is some justification since no other traveler could have stolen it.

Screenshot showing the phone was accessed in Qatar:

Screenshot showing the phone was accessed in Qatar

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    @KodosJohnson Have you tried tweeting your case to #QatarAirways ? Sometimes the bad publicity makes people act. – Songo Apr 10 '17 at 9:40
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    and the gmail account on the phone was accessed Not that it helps now, but it's unusual not to have a screen-lock PIN or such. If you pursue the case, someone at some point is going to ask you about this, if anything to try to spot contradictions in your story. – SantiBailors Apr 12 '17 at 11:51
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    @SantiBailors "Accessing" can also mean that the phone was turned on and the gmail client in the background updated itself. Without a human interaction. – Freddy Apr 12 '17 at 18:48
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    What were they transporting in their carryon that was more valuable per kg (or liter) than a smartphone? Gold bars? Literally priceless family heirlooms? – stannius Apr 12 '17 at 19:37
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    Do you think there's a possibility your friends would betray you? – Stephan Bijzitter Apr 14 '17 at 7:00
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The airline is liable.
According to the Montreal convention the airline cannot disclaim liability via their contract of carriage or other terms and conditions. As in this analysis by the US DoT (not USA specific):

We have become aware of tariff provisions filed by several carriers that attempt, with respect to checked baggage, to exclude certain items, generally high-cost or fragile items such as electronics, cameras, jewelry or antiques, from liability for damage, delay, loss or theft. A typical provision found in carrier tariffs and disclosed on carrier websites states that the carrier does not assume liability for loss, damage, or delay of “certain specific items, including: .. antiques, documents, electronic equipment, film, jewelry, keys, manuscripts[…] money, paintings, photographs...”

Such exclusions, while not prohibited in domestic contracts of carriage, are in contravention of Article 17 of the Montreal Convention (Convention), as revised on May 28, 1999. Article 17 provides that carriers are liable for damaged or lost baggage if the destruction, loss or damage” occurred while the checked baggage was within the custody of the carrier, except to the extent that the damage “resulted from the inherent defect, quality or vice of the baggage.”

Compensation is limited to 1131 SDRs which today is approximately US$1500.

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    This is very good advice and I will definitely bring this up with them. Thank you very much. However, it seems like article 17 of the convention has to do with lost baggage and not the contents within. – Kodos Johnson Apr 10 '17 at 4:39
  • @KodosJohnson I believe it applies to the contents too – Berwyn Apr 10 '17 at 5:46
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    @Berwyn what proves that there was a phone is the luggage? Do I need to do something specific before boarding? – Songo Apr 10 '17 at 7:14
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    @Songo Nothing proves you had a phone in your luggage unless there's some way to get the initial x-ray scan which I doubt. If you were claiming on insurance, it would be hard to prove it was stolen either. It's all about balance of probabilities and the fact that a fraudulent claim would be a crime. – Berwyn Apr 10 '17 at 7:20
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    To be clear, Qatar is not going to roll over on this. They will deny everything and try to stall you for as long as possible. You will have to bring legal proceedings against them to enforce this claim. You can do so in Qatar, at the destination, or at the place where you bought the ticket (per Article 33 of the Convention, "Jurisdiction"). In these kind of claims, most carriers will offer to settle the night before the case is due to proceed in court. If your jurisdiction has a small claims court or similar simple procedure for low value claims, you probably want to have a look at it. – Calchas Apr 10 '17 at 9:33
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Not sure about Quatar but in other jurisdictions (e.g. USA, India) you can complain to the airport authorities. They will review CCTV footage (after some pushing) and if they catch a handler filching your valuable the punishment is swift and sure.

I've known several handlers get jail time in the US for exactly this sort of thing. Of course, the smarter thieves will try to do it out of sight of CCTV etc. but even so there's ways to know who all had access based on the duty roster etc. & investigations are often fruitful.

Sometimes multiple complaints will help narrow down on a baggage handler by correlation. So you should always complain. If there's a trend the Airport Authorities are more motivated to act. And if a number of complaints come it is easier to just zoom in on a bunch of handlers based on access.

Also, often times, the fact that you are motivated enough to file a complaint can nudge the airline into discharging its obligations. Technically, whether the guilty party can be identified or not, the airline still has to discharge its obligation to make good your loss.

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    At an Indian airport, a friend of mine had her unattended bag stolen while she went to use the toilet. Conveniently, of all the cctvs, the one where the theft occurred malfunctioned. – greatone Apr 11 '17 at 0:53
  • @greatone Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity..... – curious_cat Apr 11 '17 at 2:20
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    @greatone You are in India. Did you try a bribe. Might work. Depending on person 10$ might be enough – Max Payne Apr 11 '17 at 7:35
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    @greatone: Why would anyone leave a bag unattended in an airport? Haven't we all heard enough, over the past 20 years, of the repeated warnings that unattended bags will be destroyed? I can't believe people are still this stupid :( – Lightness Races in Orbit Apr 13 '17 at 11:32
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You could consider contacting the Airport Police in Qatar at +974-4010-9666 and seeing if they will accept a report. This may not get you your phone back, but could help the police investigate theft in their jurisdiction.

If you have travel insurance, you could file a claim.

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Never, ever, leave valuable things in checked baggages.

Things routinely "disappear". In some ports of the world, they are as much organised as they routinely x-ray baggage to find which ones are worthy robbing.

Money are electronics are specially sought after. Mobiles are laptops are prone to get stolen.

Often people do not understand how easy is to open some type of luggage. Luggage with zips are extremely easy to open even when locked with a lock. They do not need to open the lock at all to open the zip. Airports also have master keys for most of the commercial locks that already come with luggages. Or put in another way, it only takes them a few minutes to open any type of luggage.

I was actually stolen thrice. In one of the occasions, the border police actually stole a phone under my own eyes. Fortunately, their time was mostly limited, and they stole the cheaper phone (I had two phones there). In another occasion, I did not close the bag in the way to airport, and the hotel employees stole a cheap disposable camera and the charger of a phone while in route in the shuttle from the hotel to the airport. Lastly, in the last one, I send an insured and working laptop from a country in Europe to German for it to be repaired, and the laptop never arrived.

In my opinion, to avoid questions as if your friends stole the phone, it should be them filing a police case with the Qatar police.

Lastly, it could be argued it is common sense not to carry mobile phones in checked luggage. We were given a couple of years ago a tablet and a phone to deliver to someone in the family, and obviously we carried it in hand luggage.

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