That’s Ridiculous! Why Won’t Airlines Cover Stolen Computers? | Frommers.com

Here’s a question I get all the time: Why won’t an airline cover a lost or damaged computer in my checked luggage?

My answer is always the same: because!

Well, it’s been that way since the Wright Brothers flew a kite at Kitty Hawk. Every airline contract specifically says it doesn’t cover lost or stolen electronics, among other things.

But when a friend asked me for help with a computer claim on United Airlines (www.united.com), I couldn’t say “no.” First, he’s an elite-level customer, the kind airlines like United often make exceptions for. Second, his bag was obviously pilfered either by a United employee or a TSA agent, he says, because it never made it from California to New York.

And third — well, I’ve been repeating “because” for so long, that I had begun to wonder: why is this?

The Transportation Department, which regulates airlines in the United States, “does not prohibit” carriers from declining to pay compensation for a computer that’s lost, damaged, or stolen when carried in checked baggage domestically, according to a department spokesman.

“Airlines have pointed to fraudulent claims by consumers for loss of electronics and other expensive items as the reason they exclude these from compensation,” he told me.

An airline doesn’t have that luxury when operating an international flight. Under the Montreal Convention, it’s on the hook for a damaged or pilfered computer in your checked luggage. Domestic airlines tried to weasel out of that one until the DOT issued a stern warning telling them that the Montreal Convention applied to them, too.

Curiously, this hasn’t led to a marked increase in fraudulent claims. Of course, stolen electronics aren’t the only thing United Airlines exempts itself from.

Take a deep breath and read this, folks:

    BAGGAGE LIABILITY For travel wholly between points in the U.S., United will not be liable for loss of money, jewelry, cameras, negotiable papers/securities, electronic/video/photographic equipment, heirlooms, antiques, artifacts, works of art, silverware, irreplaceable books/publications/manuscripts/business documents, precious metals and other similar valuable and commercial effects.

Whoa. That’s a lot of items. It gets worse. United “prohibits” such items from being place in checked baggage on international trips — presumably to avoid paying for them under its Montreal Convention obligations.

That’s exactly why you don’t check in valuables

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