Airlines Lose Australian Open Player’s Wheelchair – AGAIN!

Social Media can be the bane of our existence or the solution to all of our problems. Just today we saw on social media the case of one professional tennis player on his way to the Australian Open who uses a wheelchair have his chair LOST not only once, not only twice, but for a third time by the airlines. 

Gusti (Gustavo) Fernandez is a professional tennis player who uses a wheelchair. If you haven’t heard of him, he’s the men’s doubles champion at Wimbledon in 2015 and the men’s singles champion at Roland Garros in 2016 and the Australian Open 2017.

Gusti Fernandex, from BATennis.com

This year he was traveling to the Australian Open flying from Argentina to Santiago, and onward to Auckland and Sydney when he ran into a small problem. Heading to social media for a resolution, he tweeted this:

Translated, he says “Dear @Latam and @Qantas, I don’t want to bother, but this seems like the only way to get your attention. I’m competing tomorrow and once again you’ve lost my wheelchair. Please can someone from the staff contact me as soon as possible so we can get this resolved ASAP? I’ve tried calling all day long.

I mean, damn… losing a wheelchair on a three leg journey provides a whole new set of challenges. Was it lost in Argentina? Maybe it didn’t make the leg in Santiago? What about Auckland? Perhaps it didn’t make the transfer over there?

LATAM Airlines from airlinersphotostream.com

Luckily, the fans and friends alike started the social media phone tree. The airlines responded only with the standard “please give us your name, record locator, blah blah” but others dove into action, tagging large and influential bloggers and writers in Argentina, the chair was finally found.

Turns out it never made it out of Auckland, but it was going to be on the next flight out, and, crossing fingers, it’ll make it JUST in time for him to compete.

What to do if your luggage is lost?

Now, while I get that you can’t just go to your local Australian department store and buy a competition grade wheelchair, you do have certain rights as a traveler… and another level of rights if you’re a consumer and you purchased your ticket with a credit card.

If the airline loses your luggage, they have to replace it. Depending on the airline and what countries you’re flying to, you have a maximum allowed amount that they have to reimburse you. According to the Montreal Convention, the law that governs your rights as an air traveler, you are entitled to up to ~$1,400 in damages if an airline loses your luggage. 

Photo from BAE Automated Systems, Inc.

Note, that’s if the airline LOSES your luggage, but what happens if they just simply misplace it and you need some new clothes and sundries?

Credit Card Insurance

Most Premium Credit Cards today (think annual fee) come with some variant of Travel Insurance. The Chase Sapphire card for example comes with both Baggage Delay and Lost Baggage insurance. 

Baggage Delay means that you can have up to $100 a day to go out and buy new clothes, toiletries, and even a charging cable if your bags are going to be delayed more than 6 hours.

Lost Baggage Insurance with the credit card entitles you to up to $3,000 in damage recovery when an airline loses your stuff.

You don’t have to do anything to “activate” the insurance, just make sure that you paid for the ticket with your credit card (yet another reason not to pay with a Debit card – EVER).

Checked baggage from Google Images

Gusti probably didn’t use the Sapphire Card since he’s not a resident of the USA and I’m sure that it was booked with a travel agency. You should check your wallet because chances are that your credit cards might offer a similar insurance program.

Silver Lining

Just a few moments ago while we were writing this, Gusti posted a series of tweets thanking everyone involved in helping find his lost wheelchair. Turns out that having over 20k twitter followers counts for something these days!

Traveling can be a stressful time, but traveling in a wheelchair, especially when having to deal with airline employees that don’t know how best to handle someone traveling with disabilities, can be a nightmare. 

Follow these simple rules to try and create a stress free travel experience

  1. Don’t pack extremely valuable things in your checked luggage. If you’ve got no other option that checking them, 
  2. Make sure that you’ve got yourself covered with baggage insurance. You’ll need the information to file your claim. In the meantime,
  3. Keep receipts for everything that you purchase. You’ll need them to ask for reimbursement when you…
  4. Call the airline. Make sure to have the contact information for the customer service department handy, especially on international vacations where you might not have access to a 1-800 dialing.

Have you ever lost any luggage? What recourse did you take?

Author: Jon Nickel-D'Andrea

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