Aviation News

June 8, 2010

American Airlines Breaks Bikes

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Richard Martin's broken bike.

What recourse do you have when an airline destroys your $1,800 bicycle and screws up your long-planned vacation? According to American Airlines, nothing.

It all started on July 2nd, 2009, when our friend Richard Martin boarded a flight to Europe at JFK Airport in New York. While preparing for his journey with a friend to tour the continent on two wheels, Richard had very carefully and lovingly packed his custom bicycle in a “bike box” to the specifications listed on American’s website and those issued by his bike manufacturer.

All that careful planning and packing came to a screeching halt when Richard looked out the window of his plane to see his bike lying on the JFK tarmac with the box and plastic in shreds and one of his bike’s wheels hanging out.

Letter to AMR CEO Gerard Arpey. (+Click to enlarge+)

He notified a flight attendant, who summoned the baggage crew chief, John, who swore on his years of experience that his bike looked rough but promised nothing was broken. Richard took John at his word and relaxed for his flight.

When he finally arrived in Geneva, Richard discovered John had lied. The box containing his bike appeared to have been run over by a luggage tug or some other vehicle, and the bike was destroyed beyond repair. In order to complete his planned vacation, Richard had to buy a new bike.

When he got home, Richard spent months getting the runaround from American Airlines, Brussels Airlines (who Richard flew a connecting flight on) and a firm called HuntleighUSA which handles AA’s baggage claims. Letters to everyone up to the Gerard Arpey, the CEO of American’s parent company AMR, got nowhere.

After nearly a year without progress, Richard has taken his fight to the Internet. He made a video about his experience titled simply, “American Airlines Breaks Bikes” (watch it below) and started a Facebook fan page with the same name.

So what’s the deal, American Airlines? Even though Richard did everything right, and your baggage folks clearly ran over his bike with a truck, why are aren’t you willing to compensate him for his bike?

He’s even enlisted the support of Dave Carroll, the “United Breaks Guitars” guy.

Letter from Dave Carroll

Receipt for Richard’s replacement bike:

Receipt from Geneva bike store



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  • Guest

    The maximums the airlines have written themselves (with permission of may governments) in the Geneva, Warsaw and Montreal conventions are truly a joke – aa.com states "international travel governed by the Warsaw Convention – $9.07 USD per lb up to $634.90 USD per bag". So, you see how the airline – any airline – will probably try to claim a thirty pound bike will be reimbursed for $272.10.

    The only answer is to take out excess valuation insurance when you check in baggage worth more than $9.07 / lb or rely on other insurance you may have on the bike, homeowner's insurance, etc.

    And when you write the CEO's office for assistance in compensation, don't make veiled threats – that can make them clam up, probably on advice of their attorneys.

    Another concern is that the replacement bicycle cost 1,800 CHF – which at least at today's rates, is actually $1,562.72 USD. It's less than ethical to try to claim a higher price than the paid replacement value (iirc the exchange rate last year made the difference even greater).

  • Guest

    The maximums the airlines have written themselves (with permission of may governments) in the Geneva, Warsaw and Montreal conventions are truly a joke – aa.com states "international travel governed by the Warsaw Convention – $9.07 USD per lb up to $634.90 USD per bag". So, you see how the airline – any airline – will probably try to claim a thirty pound bike will be reimbursed for $272.10.

    The only answer is to take out excess valuation insurance when you check in baggage worth more than $9.07 / lb or rely on other insurance you may have on the bike, homeowner's insurance, etc.

    And when you write the CEO's office for assistance in compensation, don't make veiled threats – that can make them clam up, probably on advice of their attorneys.

    Another concern is that the replacement bicycle cost 1,800 CHF – which at least at today's rates, is actually $1,562.72 USD. It's less than ethical to try to claim a higher price than the paid replacement value (iirc the exchange rate last year made the difference even greater).

    • Thanks for your comment and excellent observations!

      Hi my name is Rich Martin. I’m the unfortunate owner of the bicycle shown at the top of this page. When I originally sent out this letter to Mr. Arpey, I intended to use CHF to denote currency instead of a dollars. It was NOT my intention otherwise. For what it’s worth, the balance on my credit card for the replacement bicycle was $1649.86 (in dollars at the going exchange rate in July ‘09), plus $49.49 foreign transaction fee, plus accrued payback finance fees. In addition, my $120 Old Man Mountain bike rack was damaged, my helmet was damaged, my electronic gauge was broken (all not included in the cost), and my original bicycle that was broken cost over $1800.

      All the best,
      RGM

    • Thanks for your comment and excellent observations!

      Hi my name is Rich Martin. I’m the unfortunate owner of the bicycle shown at the top of this page. When I originally sent out this letter to Mr. Arpey, I intended to use CHF to denote currency instead of a dollars. It was NOT my intention otherwise. For what it’s worth, the balance on my credit card for the replacement bicycle was $1649.86 (in dollars at the going exchange rate in July ‘09), plus $49.49 foreign transaction fee, plus accrued payback finance fees. In addition, my $120 Old Man Mountain bike rack was damaged, my helmet was damaged, my electronic gauge was broken (all not included in the cost), and my original bicycle that was broken cost over $1800.

      All the best,
      RGM

  • Guest

    The maximums the airlines have written themselves (with permission of may governments) in the Geneva, Warsaw and Montreal conventions are truly a joke – aa.com states "international travel governed by the Warsaw Convention – $9.07 USD per lb up to $634.90 USD per bag". So, you see how the airline – any airline – will probably try to claim a thirty pound bike will be reimbursed for $272.10.

    The only answer is to take out excess valuation insurance when you check in baggage worth more than $9.07 / lb or rely on other insurance you may have on the bike, homeowner's insurance, etc.

    And when you write the CEO's office for assistance in compensation, don't make veiled threats – that can make them clam up, probably on advice of their attorneys.

    Another concern is that the replacement bicycle cost 1,800 CHF – which at least at today's rates, is actually $1,562.72 USD. It's less than ethical to try to claim a higher price than the paid replacement value (iirc the exchange rate last year made the difference even greater).

    • Thanks for your comment and excellent observations!

      Hi my name is Rich Martin. I’m the unfortunate owner of the bicycle shown at the top of this page. When I originally sent out this letter to Mr. Arpey, I intended to use CHF to denote currency instead of a dollars. It was NOT my intention otherwise. For what it’s worth, the balance on my credit card for the replacement bicycle was $1649.86 (in dollars at the going exchange rate in July ‘09), plus $49.49 foreign transaction fee, plus accrued payback finance fees. In addition, my $120 Old Man Mountain bike rack was damaged, my helmet was damaged, my electronic gauge was broken (all not included in the cost), and my original bicycle that was broken cost over $1800.

      All the best,
      RGM

  • cdo

    Another reason to invest in a proper travel case.

  • cdo

    Another reason to invest in a proper travel case.

  • cdo

    Another reason to invest in a proper travel case.

  • ramp

    looks like it fell off the back of a vehicle and then was run over by baggage carts being towed behind…

  • ramp

    looks like it fell off the back of a vehicle and then was run over by baggage carts being towed behind…

  • ramp

    looks like it fell off the back of a vehicle and then was run over by baggage carts being towed behind…

  • athan

    Why did'nt you use a real bike case not a cardboard version. I would never send bike that nice overseas without a real bike case.

  • athan

    Why did'nt you use a real bike case not a cardboard version. I would never send bike that nice overseas without a real bike case.

  • athan

    Why did'nt you use a real bike case not a cardboard version. I would never send bike that nice overseas without a real bike case.

  • ex ramp agent

    I used to work as a baggage person on the ramp for Alaska Airlines. I was litterally told to throw the fragile stuff harder. I know longer put anything fragile on an airplane. The best advice I can give is to ship anything you have, if you have the chance to. That way, you can get insurance for the amount your stuff is worth. Most airlines will say the provide insurance, but they really don't. With Alaska, they tell you after you lose your items that they don't have insurance, and that whoever said they did lied. (I did baggage claim a few times) Good luck, and you are in my prayers.

  • ex ramp agent

    I used to work as a baggage person on the ramp for Alaska Airlines. I was litterally told to throw the fragile stuff harder. I know longer put anything fragile on an airplane. The best advice I can give is to ship anything you have, if you have the chance to. That way, you can get insurance for the amount your stuff is worth. Most airlines will say the provide insurance, but they really don't. With Alaska, they tell you after you lose your items that they don't have insurance, and that whoever said they did lied. (I did baggage claim a few times) Good luck, and you are in my prayers.

  • ex ramp agent

    I used to work as a baggage person on the ramp for Alaska Airlines. I was litterally told to throw the fragile stuff harder. I know longer put anything fragile on an airplane. The best advice I can give is to ship anything you have, if you have the chance to. That way, you can get insurance for the amount your stuff is worth. Most airlines will say the provide insurance, but they really don't. With Alaska, they tell you after you lose your items that they don't have insurance, and that whoever said they did lied. (I did baggage claim a few times) Good luck, and you are in my prayers.

  • This is very useful to do. Thanks my associate