What are your rights when you pay an airline to check in your luggage?

It’s summer and that means more people are paying fees to check in their luggage. But what happens if your luggage doesn’t get to its destination on time?

A reader writes to Money Adviser to ask what rights a passenger has when checked luggage doesn’t arrive. The question is timely given a lawsuit filed this month against United Airlines by a passenger who paid $25 to check in luggage that never made her flight. The lawsuit seeks a refund of all baggage fees paid for bags that were delayed since September 2003, when United, according to the suit, began leaving passenger luggage behind in order to make room for more lucrative cargo. The lawsuit also seeks refunds for baggage fees in the future when a bag is not transported with a passenger.

Q. An airline diverted my friend’s baggage to another flight, so it wasn’t at his destination when his plane arrived. What is the airline’s obligation to him? Must it refund his baggage handling fees? —K.L., Runnemede, N.J.

A.  Federal rules require airlines to refund baggage fees if luggage is lost, but not if it’s delayed. But the airline may have to reimburse your friend for any direct or consequential damages due to delays, up to certain limits. For example, if he was on his way to a job interview and had to buy new shoes because he didn’t have the packed ones, the airline could be on the hook for the cost. Also, airlines may have their own additional policies, so your friend should check.

Due to the lawsuit that was filed this month against United Airlines, these rules are being challenged to help better serve the consumer.

Read more about your rights if your baggage doesn’t end up on your flight. Also read 5 easy ways to dodge airline baggage fees.

Editor's Note: This article has been updated from the February, 2014 issue of Consumer Reports Money Adviser.

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