What are your rights in Saudi Arabia if the airline loses your baggage?
With the Eid holiday season in full swing, as usual there is much discussion about delayed flights and lost baggage at airports. So, as a passenger, what exactly are your rights from the moment you enter the airport at the start of your journey, to when you collect your bags at the end?
First, the Department of Customer Protection at the General Authority for Civil Aviation in Saudi Arabia is responsible for supervising all matters related to the rights of passengers, and receiving complaints against all carriers for flights departing from the Kingdom and against the national carrier, Saudia, for arrivals.
The customer rights protection regulations make it clear that the contractual relationship between the airline and the passenger begins with a confirmed reservation. These regulations deal with several areas related to the quality standards of the service provided by the airline. The most important are delay or cancellation of a flight, and the loss of luggage. However, the regulations do not cover delays or cancellations due to force majeure, such as weather conditions, airspace closures as a result of a political emergency, or a natural phenomenon.
When an airline cancels an international flight 14 days before the departure date, or seven days in the case of a domestic flight, it is required to refund the ticket price to the customer, in addition to compensation. If the passenger is notified of the delay within 24 hours of departure, the airline must either offer an alternative flight within 24 hours of the original departure date, or cancel the contract and return what the passenger has paid, in addition to compensation of 50 percent of the value of the ticket.
When a flight is delayed, the most common occurrence, passengers must be informed no more than 45 minutes before the departure time, and advised of the new departure time. Curiously, the regulations do not specify the consequences for an airline that fails to do so. If a flight is delayed for more than six hours, the passenger is entitled to claim that it has been canceled, and the airline is of course obliged to provide suitable meals and hotel accommodation.
With regard to the loss of luggage, most passengers choose to leave the airport anyway and wait for the airline to get back to them, thinking their role has ended once a complaint is submitted at the airport baggage loss office. In fact, they are entitled to compensation using the Special Drawing Rights unit, a variable cash criterion approved by the International Monetary Fund and equivalent to approximately SR5.2 per unit. Each flight ticket requires the airline to compensate the owner with between 350 and 1,131 units. The regulations also explicitly require the airline to compensate the customer for damage or loss of luggage within 30 days from the date of the claim for compensation.
Most passengers do not know that they are entitled to compensation for each day of delay by the airline of between 20 and 100 units in the case of domestic flights, and 40 to 200 units for international flights. I advise passengers to fill in the relevant form to disclose any valuable contents in their luggage in order to increase this compensation.
With regard to penalties, the regulations specify a fine of SR50,000 for airlines that violate its provisions, which I recommend should be clarified so that fines can be doubled in case of repetition, and in cases of proven negligence.
All passengers would do well to learn more about their rights, and the obligations of airlines — especially as Saudi Arabia goes through a period of rapid and active development, and the airport lounges are crowded with business and leisure travelers. Bon voyage!
• Dimah Talal Alsharif is a Saudi legal consultant, head of the health law department at the law firm of Majed Garoub and a member of the International Association of Lawyers. Twitter: @dimah_alsharif