Gill Charlton, The Daily Telegraph, June 17, 2013
William Thornton, Cornwall, writes
On April 4, I travelled back from Bangkok with Thai Airways. I am a paraplegic and my custom-built titanium wheelchair was put in the hold at the gate. When it was brought to me after landing at Heathrow I was horrified to discover that it would no longer wheel.
I can’t fault the baggage handlers at Heathrow who provided another chair, stayed with me at the baggage complaints desk, and took me to a hotel for the night (I felt I had better calm down before driving home).
Thai Customer Services contacted me a couple of days later and said I was “not to worry, everything would be OK”. As requested, I sent the airline an engineer’s report from Cyclone Mobility saying the wheelchair was a write-off (twisted backrest, main frame and axle assembly). The cost of a new chair is £3,620 including delivery.
Over the past six weeks I have heard nothing further, and my calls and emails to Thai are not being returned. I have been lent a wheelchair but it is too big for me so I am effectively a prisoner in my home.
Could you help me get compensation for my damaged chair from the airline?
Gill Charlton, consumer expert, replies
I am sorry to have to tell you that under the Montreal Convention airlines are only liable to pay compensation of up to 1,311 SDRs (1 SDR = £1.02) for baggage damaged in the aircraft hold, even in a case like this where it is clear that the airline’s baggage handlers acted negligently in failing to stow your wheelchair correctly.
Thai Airways has now agreed to pay the maximum compensation of £1,104 and is sending out a Liability Claims Discharge Form for you to sign. Once you have done this, the airline has promised to “expedite the payment without any delay”.
I understand you were also under the impression that you had wheelchair cover as part of your Avanti travel insurance policy. This is not the case because you bought an off-the-shelf travel policy from Avanti.
The insurer has reviewed the recorded conversation between yourself and its sales agent and notes that there was no mention of the need for specific cover for a wheelchair. The agent did not flag this up as most users arrange all-risks cover as part of a household contents policy.
Avanti says that had it known you needed this extra cover it could have requested a special endorsement from the underwriters. However, it has agreed to pay you £250, the maximum single-item amount under Section E which covers damaged baggage, and waive the £50 excess if you submit a claim.
I understand you cannot locate your household contents policy and your wife, who deals with such matters, is away for some weeks. It is worth making a call to the insurer on her return as there could be cover in place to make up at least some of the shortfall.
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About Gill Charlton
Gill is an expert on India, Cornwall and consumer issues, especially legal disputes.