Saturday, October 16, 2010

Hunting Gear Liability - Are Airlines Responsible For Your Gear?
In a few weeks I am headed back to NY for the archery whitetail deer season (which opened today). In preparation for the trip I decided to review the TSA guidelines for traveling with firearms and archery equipment. I understood that very well, but when I moved on to the JetBlue website I was caught off guard and a bit peeved. Here is the letter I sent to JetBlue (which explains my concerns) and the response I received.

Letter to JetBlue:
In one section of the website it is mentioned that: Items that JetBlue Does Not Hold Liability for...
The following items are accepted for transportation at your own risk. JetBlue will not be liable for damage, loss or spoilage of these items.

You may choose to carry the item(s) with you if they meet the requirements for carry-on baggage. Essential medication or currency should always travel with you and should never be checked.

Fragile or unsuitably packaged items (such as antiques, art, bottles, cameras [video, still, projectors], ceramic, computer equipment, glass, hockey sticks, liquids, luggage totes, mirrors and other items subject to break in transit, musical instruments, precision tools, radios, small appliances, sound reproduction equipment, televisions or trophies)

Irreplaceable or essential items (such as antiques, artifacts, car keys, house or other keys, currency, checks, negotiable papers, securities, essential medication, heirlooms, collectible items, irreplaceable business documents, jewelry, precious stones or metals including silverware, natural fur products, optics, contact lenses, paintings/works of art)

Perishable items (such as fish, meat or any perishable food item, flowers or plants)

Then, on the page where JetBlue discusses traveling with firearms it says: 
Please note: Sporting goods/equipment will only be accepted for transportation at the customer's own risk. JetBlue Airways will not be liable in the event that the item is damaged, lost, or spoiled upon arrival.

Why wouldn't JetBlue be liable if firearms/compound bows were damaged upon arrival? I am going to be taking a trip in the next few weeks and want to be sure my archery equipment is going to be covered. If it is checked by TSA officials and is in great shape when the case is locked up by the official and it arrives broken who is then liable? I am very confused and thinking about switching my flight if my gear is not covered.
______________________________________________________________________

Response from JetBlue:
Dear Albert,
Thank you for contacting JetBlue Airways regarding our baggage liability. We appreciate the opportunity to respond.


Firearms, shooting equipment and related items are conditionally accepted items as checked baggage at the customer's own risk. For this reason, these items must be suitably packed in either a crush-proof container specifically designed for the equipment, or in a hard-sided container, or in packaging designed to withstand ordinary handling.

In accordance with our Contract of Carriage, JetBlue will not be liable in the event that such items are damaged or lost. There are insurance companies that will provide coverage for baggage, or you also have the option to have the equipment shipped.

Albert, we thank you for choosing JetBlue and we look forward to welcoming you onboard.

Sincerely,

Michelle
Customer Commitment Crew
JetBlue Airways
Crewmember 26482
______________________________________________________________________

Ok, what kind of answer is that? It's just regurgitating the information found on the website. I call bullshit. Sure, I know I need to pack my gear in a hard-sided case and be sure it's packed well, but come on. They are telling me I'll need extra insurance to cover my gear? It pays to get an SKB Case that has $1,500 liability coverage with it. In my opinion, JetBlue is getting off easy here. What this says to me is - Well, we'll take your money, but should we decide to toss your hard-sided case filled with your expensive archery gear and it lands wrong and breaks, well then, too bad so sad. You are shit out of luck.  I mentioned this to my wife and she brought up a good point. She said to check out some of the other airlines and see what their policies are. All of the information was found on their respective websites.

American Airlines
American assumes no liability for musical instruments/recreational/sports items not presented in a hard-sided case.
Liability
American's liability for loss, damage or delayed delivery of checked baggage, including transfer baggage, is limited to the actual value of the baggage or $3,300, whichever is less, unless the passenger declares a higher value for loss of baggage, not to exceed $5000.00 including the $3,300 standard liability per passenger and pays American a sum of $2.00 per $100.00 (or any portion thereof) of excess value. Excess valuation coverage is not available for and does not apply to items excluded in our liability below.
________________________________________________
United Airlines
For travel wholly between U.S. points, liability for delay, damage or loss to checked baggage, including carry-on baggage if tendered to the carrier's in-flight personnel for storage or otherwise delivered into the custody of the carrier, is limited to a maximum of $3,300 per ticketed passenger.
________________________________________________
Delta Airlines
Fragile/Limited Liability Release Items
We will accept certain fragile or perishable items without a limited liability release as long as they meet the requirements outlined below:

    * Item is packaged in the original factory-sealed container
    * Item includes internal protective packing material
    * Item is typically designed for shipping

Items that are not appropriately packaged, and are not assistive devices, will only be accepted upon completion of a limited liability release.

Excess Valuation
Delta Air Lines is not liable for checked or unchecked baggage in excess of the limits described above unless:

    * You declare a higher value.
    * The declared value does not exceed $5,000.
    * The item is properly described, properly packaged and undamaged.
    * You pay an excess value fee at check-in.

The excess valuation charge is applicable only when the declared value is greater than the applicable liability limit.

Domestic Excess Valuation Charges
(Continental U.S., Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico, and Virgin Islands)
Total Amount of Declared Value     Fee Paid at Check-In
$3300.01 to $4000.00     $40.00
$4000.01 to $5000.00     $50.00

To me, it looks as if American and United have a better policy, but Delta is asking for the insurance to be added. None of the other three say they will not be held liable in the event of damage or loss. Am I wrong in thinking that JetBlue is wrong here? 

Some of you might be thinking it would be easier to just change airlines. Normally I would agree, but not in this case. JetBlue flies a fairly direct route and the time of arrival in NY is much better than the others. My layover is in NYC, so if I was stuck driving from there to my destination I could do it if I had to. The ticket price is relatively the same, but the other factors led me to JetBlue. I did have airline miles I wanted to use from American, but they gave me the big middle finger when I wanted to use them for a one-way flight. Whatever.

Honestly, for you travelers out there, how do you feel about this and what precautions would you take for a trip like this?

5 comments:

  1. First of all, good on you for doing some homework BEFORE the unthinkable happens. Most folks wouldn't bother, and then they're surprised when they find out, for example, that that $1000 scope that the baggage apes crushed isn't covered by the airline... and that by purchasing the ticket, they essentially signed a contract accepting the risk of damage.

    Secondly, JetBlue isn't "wrong". As a company, they can choose to set their policies as they see fit. I'm sure it probably gets them a lower insurance rate, since they reduced their liability.

    But...

    As a customer, you have the right to "vote with your pocketbook" by choosing to fly with another carrier. It's unfortunate that the options may be limited, based on your travel plans and desires, but that's the choice you have to make. What's it worth to you?

    Just remember that if you do choose another carrier, make sure you let Jet Blue know why you made the choice.

    In the bigger picture, by the way, I avoid all of the airlines whenever I possibly can. They know they have the passengers over a barrel when it comes to long-distance travel, and they can do almost anything they want because when it comes down to it, flying is the only realistic option for some trips.

    I have spent more time and money to drive when I can, and it's been worth it to me every time. I'm looking forward to seeing AmTrak come up with a decent policy for checking firearms. When that's final, I will start taking the train.

    By the way, I've been having some trouble entering my Comments on your site lately. The "Comment As" field doesn't seem to want to take my entry. Could be just me, but thought I'd let you know.

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  2. Yeah, I am taking off to Montana next week. i need to look into this. Thanks for the heads-up!

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  3. Thanks for the comments guys.

    Phillip - I have to respectfully disagree. If I am taking luggage on a trip the airline should have some responsibility when it comes to my gear. I am not saying I should also not be held responsible either. I think it's my duty to take proper care of my gear before I make it to the airport. Still, I have seen the way some of the handlers toss the baggage around and more care should be taken. Yes, we do vote with our wallets, plus there are other factors besides cash that come into play. I was willing to shell out more money if I had to, but the flight schedules for that time were a bit off-kilter. I would love to drive back to NY, but a week on the road would kill my vacation time. :) I'll look into the Comment As issue. Not sure what is happening, but thank you for pointing it out.

    Ian - Good luck on your trip! I look forward to reading about it!

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  4. Phillip - After thinking about it some more I feel I also need to clarify a bit more. My response sounded a bit guttural. It's not so much that I expect JetBlue to pay, pay, pay... I just want the piece of mind knowing that when I travel my gear will arrive unscathed. The case - it can get dinged and I won't care, but the contents must be preserved. A proper packing of the case will keep anything from happening to my bow, but should some toss-happy handler decide to test out the durability of the case and something SHOULD break, then JetBlue should have to pay. I know that their policy doesn't allow that, but it should IMHO. Either way, I will be taking extra precaution with my gear when I travel to be on the safe side.

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  5. Wow! I've never traveled with my archery equipment before but I know who I won't be flyin' with!

    I'm not sure if it would be an option to ship your bow out there, via ground carrier, or not but you might want to look into that too. Just a thought.

    No matter what you choose though, best of luck to ya! Stick a biggin' ☺

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