I am a bigger risk taker than most when it comes to checking valuable items, but I’d like to think I’d draw the line somewhere before checking a 300-year-old viola valued at $200,000. One woman didn’t…and Alitalia blamed her after destroying it.
Myrna Herzog flew from Rio de Janeiro to Rome to Tel Aviv last week on Alitalia. She is a musician and checked in her 17th century Lewis viola da gamba. Herzog claimed that she wanted to buy a second seat for the viola (almost as large as a cello) but there was not one available. Alitalia, however, promised her the viola would only be handled “by hand” but refused to let her bring it onboard.
Upon reaching Rome, she waited for her viola but was told it had been forwarded to her final destination, Tel Aviv. Unfortunately, upon arrival in Tel Aviv her bag never arrived planeside nor in baggage claim. Airline staff went searching for the item, returning with the instrument…broken. It had been stored in a hard-shell case.
Alitalia was sympathetic, but firm in blaming Herzog. It asserted that she had the opportunity to purchase a second seat and declined, insisting that it should be placed in one of the onboard closets on a complimentary basis. That request was denied.
We regret what happened with Mrs. Myrna Herzog and we are carrying out all necessary investigations.
However, generally speaking, we would like to remind that for all bags exceeding the size limits allowed for cabin bags (8kg and 55 cm high, 35 cm wide and 25 cm deep), such as the musical instrument mentioned, it is necessary to purchase an ‘extra seat’ during the booking procedure in case the passenger intends to avoid checking-in such delicate and/or valuable items. The extra seat, which is normally dedicated to passengers, allows to secure the item with the appropriate procedure.
According to a preliminary investigation, no such request has been presented by the passenger neither during booking nor at the time of departure from Rio de Janeiro. During check-in operations, according to the information available at the moment, the passenger was presented with the possibility to buy an ‘extra seat’ but she refused and signed the limited release form (a disclaimer of liability) after being informed that the best solution for such a delicate item was to bring it with her in the cabin.
That said, Alitalia deeply regrets what happened to Mrs. Herzog and will proceed, having established the facts, with the reimbursement in compliance with the international regulations in force.
That likely means the Warsaw or Montreal Conventions kicks in, limiting compensation to about $1600USD.
On my recent trip home in SWISS First I checked an antique end table that belonged to my wife’s grandmother. While the value was probably not more than 500EUR, it held great sentimental value. Even so, we “chanced” it because we’ve had poor luck with DHL, FedEx, and UPS in the past. We packed it so well it could have been thrown about in the cargo hold and remain protected.
Upon arrival in LA we found it was indeed thrown around…and opened by Swiss authorities for inspection. But it arrived in one piece, with no new scratches or dents.
It was worth the gamble. But trust me, had it been a $200K end table, we would have taken a boat home.
Even so, my heart breaks for Herzog…I can only imagine how bad she feels about this.