This is a letter that I sent out to the country manager of Sri Lanka, the CEO of Etihad, posted as a note on FB and on numerous pages to get my story out there.
29 September 2016
Compensation for lost baggage and Etihad’s customer care
I pen this letter as a last resort, after one year of exchanges with Etihad. I am copying this to the head of Etihad Sri Lanka, Air Berlin, through contacts I have, to travel agents in Sri Lanka and over social media. I wish my story was the exception. Though it is the most upsetting travel experience I have personally ever dealt with, a quick scan of online sources including social media very quickly highlights the fact that stories similar to mine have been faced by many others in Sri Lanka and beyond.
The inability, in the first instance, of Etihad to deliver my baggage to my final destination and far more frustratingly, the absolutely infuriating, complex and ultimately unhelpful customer service, borders on the incredible. This letter is a last, even desperate attempt to bypass the maze of customer service emails, numbers and personnel I have dealt with that is designed with one purpose in mind – to frustrate customers and ultimately allow Etihad to go scot free when it comes to claims around lost baggage. Every airport, every person and every office I have dealt with from Etihad works around what appears to be a clear corporate policy, ingrained at all levels, to all employees – treat customers with the utmost disdain, be as unhelpful and confusing as possible, never give a definite or clear answer and postpone and delay or misdirect as much as possible, in order to get the customer to give up their claims, queries and hope around compensation.
Supporting documentation to this letter are attached. In releasing this letter to the public, my hope is that I warn other travellers over Etihad’s appalling customer service and the risk of what happened to me, happening to them. I will also release this to travel agents in Sri Lanka, so that they can also advise their clients against booking with Etihad and what appears to be a systemic, long-standing, global problem around baggage handling.
My flight on Etihad and Etihad’s code-share partner, Air Berlin, took place one year ago. From that time on, I have been in touch with Etihad regarding my lost baggage, to no avail. My journey to the US took place on 8th August 2015, via Abu Dhabi and Dusseldorf. My return leg was on 2nd September 2015. My flight to the US was on Business Class on all the sectors of travel. My baggage was checked in and interlined to the final destination from Colombo. Copies of my baggage tags and ticket are attached.
All of my luggage was lost during my entire stay in the US. My experiences with customer relations at Etihad, and its code-share partner, Air Berlin are so bad, they would risk incredulity and disbelief if I were to list them in detail. Airline staff were unhelpful, confused and unable to even give me basic information regarding the status of what at the time was my lost luggage. As a customer, I had to link disparate snippets of information and then feed it to Etihad over many days, weeks and indeed months, instead of the carrier taking the responsibility to locate and return my lost luggage. I approached staff at LAX, New York’s JFK, throughout my trip in the US, online and upon my return to Sri Lanka. They were universally unhelpful, and the entire Etihad system, unbelievably unresponsive.
In February this year, Etihad claimed I had to pursue my inquiries regarding the lost luggage with their code-share partner Air Berlin. That email is attached. To my knowledge, this however directly contravenes the Montreal Convention of 28 May 1999 which notes that if the carrier performing the carriage is not the carrier with whom the passenger entered into the contract, the passenger has the right to lodge a complaint or demand indemnity from either of them. It goes on to say that if the name or the code of an air carrier are shown in the ticket, it is the carrier with whom the contract was entered into that bears the responsibility for baggage handling, and any subsequent loss. This is also supported by relevant clauses in the Warsaw Convention & Hague Protocol around lost baggage and carrier responsibility, which Etihad seems, conveniently, to be blissfully ignorant of.
What this simply means is that Etihad had repeatedly violated my rights as a customer. It has shafted aside legal responsibility, and by attempting to pass the buck to Air Berlin, attempts to get away without paying me the compensation I am entitled to. As a customer, I am caught in an endless, maddening loop between Etihad and Air Berlin. This also begs the question – if this is what Etihad does to Business Class customers, I would hate to think what Economy Class customers have to suffer.
There is another aspect to all this. Etihad’s code-share partner is not something the customer has any control over. Given the fact that I booked my flight through Etihad, paid Etihad, checked in with Etihad and got my baggage tags through Etihad, it is ridiculous for me to deal with Air Berlin as a code-share partner in order for me to figure out why my bags were lost, with no cooperation or help from Etihad whatsoever. An email sent to Air Berlin in September 2015 is attached, and the contents therein demonstrate the sheer incompetence demonstrated by staff and the system writ large.
I have been both patient and polite in all my correspondence, despite (1) the sum of money I had to spend out of my own pocket to buy essentials and clothes for the entire duration of my holiday (2) over seven hours at just one airport alone in the US to talk with various airline personnel including from Air Berlin, to address the issue (3) the myriad of emails to a plethora of customer complaint platforms, baggage tracking and other systems, which have often only ever got automated responses (4) at all times and to all personnel I have interacted with across multiple countries and cities.
This however appears to be a much larger issue – hence this letter and the warning to the public to never book an Etihad flight. In August, Nishanie Jayamaha took to Facebook to share a horrendous story of how her elderly parents had lost all their luggage on an Etihad flight, including valuable and irreplaceable items for her wedding. Etihad’s responses, customer service and compensation are all marked as atrocious or non-existent. The Facebook post is attached to this letter. In September, Rev. Marc Billimoria the Warden of S. Thomas’ College in Mount Lavinia also took to Facebook to complain that Etihad had lost all his luggage on a flight to the UK. He was however fortunate to receive them several days later. I have called my travel agent, who said he is dealing with another customer complaint around Etihad very similar to mine, and that Etihad was notorious for losing baggage – suggesting that at one point he was aware of thousands of complaints in the system. He subsequently also told me of yet another customer who had been shown an area the size of a badminton court, at a US airport, with just lost luggage from Etihad. Over the course of the past year alone, several of my friends on Facebook and friends of friends have all suffered lost or misplaced baggage on Etihad.
The pattern is clear and global in scope. Etihad as a carrier simply cannot be trusted with luggage, and also in spite of international legal obligations, does not compensate customers whose bags have been irretrievably lost.
I hope you are able to look into the details of my case. I do not want another customer representative telling me that it is in the system and they will get back to me at some point in the future. I do not want to be told that the issue is with your code-share partner. I do not want to be told that the issue has been escalated, referred to another person, is outside the domain of the office I have contacted, cannot be addressed at this point of time, requires more information, needs me to be present in person, needs me to write a letter or send a fax or in any way requires me to present information I have repeatedly furnished, multiple times over the past year to Etihad, all to no avail.
It is in fact a miracle that with your customer service, attitude and incompetence the way it is, you have an airline that continues to function and fly. This has been the single most horrible experience of air travel I have had, and as noted earlier, I hope no one who dares to book a flight with Etihad ever has to go through what I have faced.
I would appreciate a response with details of the compensation I am entitled to at your earliest.
Product or Service Mentioned: Etihad Airways Customer Care.
Reason of review: Poor customer service.