Baggage loss, damage, and/or delay is an accepted hazard of air travel. The best of airports have a 0.1% or 1,000 bags per million that do not get delivered as intended.
Unfortunately, even today, most airlines operating international flights from India get away by paying paltry sums as compensation thanks to the ignorance of most international travellers from India.
Almost a year ago, India ratified the Carriage by Air (Amendment) Act, 2009. You can download the act here.
Rule 22 (2) of the act is an interesting read.
22. (1) In the case of damage caused by delay as specified in rule 19 in the carriage of persons, the liability of the carrier for each passenger is limited to four thousand one hundred and fifty Special Drawing Rights.
(2) In the carriage of baggage, the liability of the carrier in the case of destruction, loss, damage or delay shall be limited to one thousand Special Drawing Rights for each passenger unless the passenger has made, at the time when the checked baggage was handed over to the carrier, a special declaration of interest in delivery at destination and has paid a supplementary sum, if so required. In that case, the carrier shall be liable to pay a sum not exceeding the declared sum, unless it proves that the sum is greater than the passenger’s actual interest in delivery at destination.
Special Drawing Rights (SDR) is a sort of currency in the airline world consisting of a basket world currencies and their exchange rates to each other. At present an SDR is approximately equal to Rs. 74. This makes an airline liable up to the tune of Rs. 74,000.
However the last line of Rule 22 (2) also protects carriers from frivolous claims. As a passenger you can claim the value of loss, up to a maximum of 1,000 SDRs or Rs. 74,000. It is also important to read rule 19.
19. The carrier shall be liable for damage occasioned by delay in the carriage by air of passengers, baggage or cargo. Nevertheless, the carrier shall not be liable for damage occasioned by delay if it proves that it and its servants and agents took all measures that could reasonably be required to avoid the damage or that it was impossible for it or them to take such measures.
Simply translated, delays due to weather, technical faults and airport congestion, amongst others.
Also beware when airlines ask you to sign the reverse of the baggage tag. If you observe the airline is essentially making you absolve them of all liability by treating the baggage as a cargo and then putting it under rule 18 (2) (b)
(2) However, the carrier shall not be liable if and to the extent it proves that the destruction, or loss of, or damage to, the cargo resulted from one or more of the following……(b) defective packing of that cargo performed by a person other than the carrier or its servants or agents
Passengers to and from the European Union also have additional rights not just for baggage but for hardships to themselves. It is helpful to know your rights before you fly.
I recommend visiting Brett Snyder – The Cranky Flier, who in my humble opinion, is a world authority on passenger rights (even if from a US perspective), for more information.
On the domestic side however, passengers have precious few rights. While in the United States Domestic Baggage Liability under 14 CFR 254.4 is up to $3,300 (Rs. 155,100) in India it is up to the individual airline and in most cases it is a ridiculous Rs. 3,000 ($63).
Something needs to be done about this.