SO WHO IS AT FAULT? Discovering A Broken Bike Post-Flight
Short of having a bike stolen, there is perhaps nothing worse than opening up whatever your bike was stored in for a flight, and discovering that it’s broken. But it does happen and it very recently happened to me. There are some important questions that get raised in these situations, primarily around who is responsible? The person who packed it up? The airport? The airline? What if your trip consisted of more than one carrier?
Some of these are answered below where I’m sharing my experience of returning from Europe to discover that my bike was cracked during the flight, and the so far unsuccessful effort to hold the airline accountable.
The bike (A Trek Emonda SLR 9 eTap, Project One)was stored in a Scicon TSA 3.0 soft-shell bag specifically designed for air travel. I have used that bag to transport a bike 8 times, 7 of which I had no issues. It was on the 8th trip where the frame was cracked.
I discovered the damage when I got home, and immediately took 2 photographs of the crack (those are further down). My understanding is that the airline you travelled with for the final destination is the airline that’s responsible for damaged or lost luggage. So if you fly with American Airlines from DC to NY, and then you fly Iberian to Barcelona, Iberian is responsible for the luggage. This was confirmed when I first contacted Aegean Airlines (who I flew with from Athens to Vienna), so I then contacted Austrian Airlines. I spoke with a customer support agent who told me such a claim could be made online only. I went to their page about damage, filled out the information they required and submitted a claim. There was no confirmation that a claim had been made. I waited about a week and called back, only to be directed to an automated response system which informed me that damage claims can take about thirty days to process.
When thirty days passed, I submitted another claim, and once again I received no confirmation for it. I waited again for about a week before I called their customer service line again. I spoke to an agent of theirs and explained the situaiton as well the fact that no one had gotten back to me yet. She asked me for my ticket number, and when I provided this, she told me she could find no record of this ticket. I wondered if that's why no one had responsed to my claims yet.
I let her know I was reading it directly off my physical ticket that I had kept and asked her to try again. She couldn't find any record of it, and ultimately told me I'd need to call back once I had found my information. My feelings again mirrored the gif to the left there....and figured the best thing to do was call back and try with a different person.
I did exactly that, and explained that I'd made two claims already and had not heard anything back, and that the previous person I spoke with said they couldn’t find a record of my flight from the ticket number I provided. I gave the number again; the agent found it, and then emailed me a link for damaged bags/cargo. The link I received was the same link I’d gone to the previous two times I made a claim. I filled it out, and to my surprise I got an immediate confirmation that my claim was received and someone would follow up with me shortly.
A few days later I received a message, and I have copied the entire exchange below so that people can see exactly what was said between the airline and myself.
These are the photos of the damage, along with the metadata showing when they were taken (a few hours after landing). You have to click on the photo to see the entire image, including the metadata in the smaller "info" window to the left
So there you have it....the exchange, unadulterated in any way so that people can come to a conclusion on their own. Since sending that in on November 25th, I have not heard anything back and today is December 2nd, 2020. Yesterday, I did send out the following tweet:
Kudos to Chad Brown, CFO of Trek Bikes for extending some sympathy and an offer to help out in some way...and I will say that Austrian did reply to the tweet as well, asking me to send feedback to customer relations if I have not done so. The tweet ended with "Kind regards, Chris." I replied to thank him for the personal touch.
At this point, my thoughts are as follows: with regards to responsibility, the fact of the matter is that the airline is responsible for the baggage from the moment it is released to them at check-in. We as passengers trust that they will not let it get lost or damaged, and if that does happen, we trust that they will take responsibility for it. Now they're stating that because I didn't get a damage claim at the airport, they will not reimburse me. I could understand that if I was making the claim even a week later, but the fact that I provided them with metadata showing the damage was discovered hours after landing, really ought to prove more than enough that this isn't an attempt to defraud anybody. In fact, I could easily be pushing for a reimbursement for full retail price of the bike, but I'm simply asking to be reimbursed for the price that I paid, which is significantly less than what someone outside the bike industry would have paid.
Beyond that, there's something bigger and more relevant to me. In today's world...which has become so toxic and charged and egocentrically driven, sometimes it's really just about what kind of a person or company you are, regardless of what you make. I was blown away by the announcement from Patagonia that they were going to stop selling their iconic "powers vests" to financial firms that weren't doing enough "giving back." In a world where options are limitless, it's that kind of a company move and stance that would have me pick a Patagonia jacket over say a "Hugo Boss" or a "Canada Goose" jacket.
And so by the same token, in this experience and their handling of it, Austrian Airlines has not only demonstrated that I don't matter, but also that they are not interested in a cohesive effort to do the right thing. And it's definitely not my responsibility to try and make this clear to them...they should be striving to do better at every opportunity they get. Furthermore, I really fucking hate the fact that I've had to resort to publicly calling them out via twitter just to try and hold them accountable. It's absurd and I shouldn't be spending my time this way. But, this is where we're at. It appears that based on a technicality (the damage claim ticket), they feel they are absolved of any responsibility. If I don't matter to a company that has yet to demonstrate a desire to do what's right (even after being presented with rather compelling evidence and practically a plea to reconsider their stance thus far), I don't think any other potential l passenger of theirs will matter either, no matter how many times they tell me that they hope this experience won't deter me from flying with them in the future.