Preparing to fly home from Italy, Marion Budgett packed her souvenirs carefully in her hand luggage – but they still didn’t survive the journey.
At the last minute passengers were told their carry-on bags would have to go in the hold.
“We had to leave our cases on the tarmac. There was no chance to get anything out,” she says.
A Which? report is warning that travellers like Marion are often losing out in such circumstances.
The consumer organisation says passengers forced to put their hand luggage in the aircraft hold are unlikely to be compensated if the contents go missing, are damaged or if they miss a connecting flight as a result.
“When we got the cases back all the stuff was smashed,” says Ms Budgett, a retiree from Lymington, Hampshire.
What she lost were only “nick-nacks” she says – a terracotta jug, a dish and a piggy bank – meant as gifts. Nevertheless she felt annoyed – and complaints to the airline, Ryanair, received no response.
Travellers aiming for a quick getaway on landing, or hoping to avoid the extra charges for putting a suitcase in the hold, are increasingly packing the largest carry-on bags allowed, and putting the rest in their pockets.
But many planes don’t have the capacity for a full size bag for every passenger, if the aircraft is full, according to Which?
For example, it says Ryanair’s Boeing 737 has a capacity of 189 seats, but its overhead lockers will manage only 90 of the maximum sized cabin cases.
A recent survey of Which? members suggests around one in ten short-haul passengers are being asked to hand over their hand luggage just before boarding, often with little warning and little time to rethink what you need to put where.
Which? heard from travellers whose carry-on bags had been damaged in the hold, or went missing.
Hand luggage is not usually padlocked as passengers expect to keep it with them and those surveyed reported money, electronic tablets, jewellery, wallets and keys that had gone missing.
Next time Ms Budgett says she’ll put up more of a fight: “I think I’d just argue and say it’s my hand luggage it has to go with me.”
But she can see why problems keep occurring, even if people know they’ve left valuables in their hand luggage.
“You can’t be faffing around at the bottom of stairs. You can’t go through your case getting everything out.”
Which? claims that airlines sometimes fail to remind passengers not to leave valuable or fragile items in hand luggage that is being transferred to the hold. The consumer group is encouraging passengers to raise the matter with the airline if their property is damaged.
“Plane cabins are not designed to hold a large number of small suitcases, so you should be prepared to part with your carry-on bag,” says Which? travel editor, Rory Boland.
“If items do go missing from your hand luggage that you had intended to keep with you, do make clear to the airline that you expect compensation.”
However Which? says airlines are likely to refuse liability for valuables that go missing, since they advise against putting them in the hold.
Five of the largest travel insurance companies – Aviva, Axa, Churchill, Direct Line and LV – told Which? that if valuables went missing under these circumstances, they would not be covered by their insurance policies.
The survey, which heard from 7,000 travellers, found some airlines had a worse record than others when it came to last minute redirection of hand luggage. A quarter of Ryanair passengers responding to the survey had had to check in their hand luggage as did one in seven of those who flew with Easyjet. Those surveyed were all Which? members.
Ryanair said: “Some of these claims from Which? are untrue. Ryanair aircraft can accommodate 190 (not 90) standard cabin bags. However, if each passenger brings up to two permitted carry-on bags then some of these 380 bags will be put in the hold free of charge.
“Customers are advised to remove valuables from their bags before they are placed in the hold. This policy is clearly stated in our terms and conditions, which each customer agrees to at the time of making their booking.
“Customers are reminded of this policy at the initial time of booking, on their itinerary email, in reminder check-in emails and at the boarding gate. Ryanair is a point-to-point airline and does not offer any connecting flights.”