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When Your Luggage is Damaged

Golf bag on arrival at Birmingham–Shuttlesworth International Airport

Story and photos by Neil Wolkodoff

Your baggage and contents are damaged on a trip with the airlines. They owe you. Maybe, maybe not.

My travel golf bag had significant damage on a recent golf trip. It appeared to be caught in a belt or from a Velociraptor missing a meal. In any event, I made the initial claim with American Airlines at the airport to get the process started. The club heads were obviously ground in the conveyor system through the holes in the top and side parts of the bag.

I have never filed a luggage claim, so this was an education. Can you get luggage, contents, or this case, golf clubs replaced when damaged or lost as luggage?

The airlines move an incredible amount of bags at a break-neck speed to keep up with passenger flow. Normal wear and tear to your baggage are not covered. If the damage exceeds that, they may reimburse or repair, if at fault. In extreme cases, a severely damaged bag may be replaced at the airport if it won’t securely hold its contents. The Department of Transportation sets general guidelines for all airlines, including a maximum reimbursement of $3800 for baggage issues. However, that is not automatic or guaranteed.

Baggage-specific regulations are part of your Carriage Contract, or how the airline interacts with you in all facets during the trip. Specifics are different regarding baggage for American Airlines, United, Delta and Southwest. For example, United Airlines will not assume liability for golf clubs unless they are in a hard-sided case.

Luggage outside specific requirements travels under limited liability if any. Only 2% of passengers have read the contract of carriage. Most passengers are surprised what is not covered.

If your luggage and contents were damaged or come up missing, that generally requires a receipt to prove content value and ownership. Keep receipts for major items and take an interior photo before your journey. Don’t expect the airline to replace tee shirts from a concert 17 years ago or $1.99 beach flops.

When I came home, I filled out a more detailed form and attached the photos and receipts. Within a few days, a baggage claim representative contacted me, and I provided a few further details. There are exceptions to their regulations. These need extraordinary circumstances for reimbursement or replacement outside of stated policies.

After I submitted the required documentation and photos to AA, my issue was resolved with a new travel bag and replacement clubs. I was prepared for a two-month process. American Airlines fixed this in less than 23 days. Given the volume of issues the airlines face daily, my experience with AA was stellar.

The moral of my luggage experience – know what is covered before you travel, then plan and expect accordingly.


Neil Wolkodoff, PhD, is a Sports Scientist in Denver, Colorado who has worked with golfers over the last 15 years. During the rare free times, he travels to exotic golf destinations to see how golf, culture and local geography mix in different locales. He has penned articles for Colorado Avid Golfer, Golf Digest, and Golf Magazine. In his travels, he has golfed with royalty, tour professionals, the local duffer, and the occasional goat.

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