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United Broke Your Guitar: What Can You Do?

With nearly 3.5 million views in just two weeks, it’s safe to say United Breaks Guitars, by Halifax-based rock group Sons of Maxwell, is a qualified sensation. In case you haven’t heard the story, United baggage handlers wrecked some of the band’s guitars and then refused any compensation for the loss. Out of options, the band recorded “United Breaks Guitars” and shot the accompanying video as a way of getting their story heard. Two more songs are in the works.

Sons of Maxwell is living every aggrieved travelers dream: In our darkest, most frustrated moments, who among us wouldn’t want to bring public embarrassment on the airline that lost or damaged our bags? But the reality is that most of us lack the recording equipment necessary to put together a polished song and video like “United Breaks Guitars,” which means we have to go to battle the old-fashioned way. With that in mind, here are some tips for dealing with lost or damaged baggage:

  • Know the rules. The guys in Sons of Maxwell ran into trouble because they didn’t report the damage within 24 hours, as United requires. (But reported within 24 hours of what? The scheduled departure or arrival? The moment you realize your luggage has been smashed? United’s delayed and damaged baggage page doesn’t get that specific.) If you’re traveling with valuable or essential property (like a musician traveling with a guitar) take some time before traveling to arm yourself with knowledge.
  • To that end, report your damage before leaving the airport. This will likely require spending a considerable amount of time in line, but it’s important to speak directly to a person and fill out all the necessary paperwork. Is this the best way to start or end your vacation? Of course not, but it’s good to have someone from the airline see the damage and even better to start the claims process as soon as possible.
  • Make and keep copies of every piece of paperwork you fill out. You’ll want to have the process documented, just in case.
  • Before you travel, consider travel insurance. Most travel insurance products cover lost or damaged bags, and bag coverage can usually be added to basic insurance packages. Baggage insurance is rarely sold separately. Rick Steves has a nice primer on travel insurance and the various types of coverage you can buy.
  • Our own Ed Perkins has a nice roundup of additional tips for damaged and delayed bags here.

What do you think about “United Breaks Guitars”? Would you relish the chance to air your airline grievances to millions? Have any (practical) tips for dealing with lost or delayed baggage? Leave a comment below. Thanks!

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