Woman sues Delta
Lost or delayed luggage inconveniences thousands of airline passengers every year, but a Key West woman is putting her foot down and her attorney wants others to join her.
In a federal lawsuit expected to grow into a class-action case, Susan Miller claims Delta Air Lines is deliberately misleading passengers by refusing to reimburse them for lost or delayed luggage, while pocketing hundreds of millions of dollars in baggage fees, according to the 21-page suit filed Dec. 2.
Delta has a contract obligation with passengers to reimburse them up to $3,300 for expenses, such as replacement clothes or medicine, if their bags are delayed. According to the lawsuit, Delta "ignores the contract and often tells passengers they are only entitled to $25 to $50 in daily expenses" and that Delta knows "the statements about $25 to $50 are false."
When Miller flew from Miami to Las Vegas on Nov. 15, 2010, Delta lost or delayed her baggage and she was left without warm clothes and medication, which required her to spend $315 for replacements, she claims.
When Miller raised the issue, she was "informed nothing could be done to assist her," according to the lawsuit. Miller's reported claim to the airline on Dec. 5, 2010, was "rejected and/or ignored."
"They did not as much as offer her a blanket to stay warm," the lawsuit states.
Miller's attorney, Coral Gables-based David Tucker, claims that Delta fails to clearly state its alleged $3,300 policy.
Signs in airports are written in legal jargon that most people don't understand and are posted in "out-of-the-way places" where passengers are unlikely to notice them, the lawsuit states.
Pictures included in the complaint show a sign with small print posted at a Delta gate near a trash can with the headline "Advice to passengers" in an area where luggage is passed from customer to airline employees.
The lawsuit alleges that in 2010, Delta collected more in baggage fees than any other airline in the nation and that such fees now account for 70 percent of its profits.
For instance, in the first three quarters of 2010, Delta collected $733 million in baggage fees, which is nearly 30 percent of the baggage fees collected by the entire airline industry, according to the lawsuit.
Delta received more than 270,000 reports of lost, delayed or misplaced luggage in the first 10 months of 2010, and possibly more because Delta reported more than 20 percent of its flights were late during that same period, the lawsuit states.
"It is bad enough for the airline to delay the bag of a passenger, but it is outrageous of Delta to make a policy of not telling passengers the truth regarding their rights under the contract all passengers fly under," the lawsuit states.
Delta spokeswoman Betsy Talton stated in an email to The Citizen that the airline does not comment on pending litigation.
Miller is suing Delta for breach of contract, unjust enrichment and violating state consumer protection laws.
Tucker said his office has already received feedback from other Delta customers, including a professional athlete from Asia whose equipment was lost or damaged during a Delta flight.
"We've received God knows how many calls and emails," Tucker said. "This touches everyone."
The lawsuit began when Tucker's friend, attorney and investigative journalist John Matte began researching airline baggage issues and published his findings on his website, airlinebaggagehell.com, where he invites customers to write of their experiences.
The lawsuit has generated interest from the national media, but Miller has declined to comment, Tucker said.
The case will be heard in Key West before U.S. District Judge James Lawrence King. King granted a motion Friday to Delta giving the carrier until Jan. 27 to respond to the lawsuit, according to court records.
A trial date has not yet been scheduled.