Recording an Experience of Loss

I wasn’t sure where to put this little record, but I haven’t posted recently so thought the blog would be as good a place as anywhere.

I arrived in Yangon, Myanmar on an AirAsia flight to undertake two years of fieldwork for my PhD thesis in Anthropology on January 20, 2017.  Unfortunately, nineteen kilograms of my luggage did not arrive with me.  This post is simply a record of my experiences, which may be useful to the airlines, to other affected travelers, and possibly to other graduate students.

The executive summary of my experience is that my baggage was never found and I was without any compensation for four weeks.  Thanks to local networks and friends I managed to borrow replacement electronic equipment for use in the field until I could afford to buy new items.  On the whole, I was very impressed with the expertise and knowledge at my University’s insurance office, but very disappointed with the staff of AirAsia Myanmar.

I could go into much detail about exactly how my luggage was lost; my own inductions and deductions.  But they are not useful for the purposes of this piece.  Briefly, on the evening of Saturday, January 20, my nineteen-kilogram box of luggage was not on the carousel at Yangon Airport.  My other six-kilogram box was.  The Yangon airport staff were businesslike in dealing with the issue, giving me an official document from the Yangon Airport Group (YAG) to take away, and stating that my bag would be “on a plane here tomorrow”.

This initial document was very important.  Anyone in this situation should not leave the airport without it.  In my case, there was a further complication.  It turned out that the Melbourne Airport staff member who checked in my boxes put the six-kilogram baggage tag on the nineteen-kilogram box, and vice-versa.  I made this clear at the time, making sure the YAG staff wrote 19kg on the document, and not 6kg – which was crucial for full compensation later.

There was no phone call the following day.  In general, both the YAG and AirAsia staff are callous care about these passenger predicaments.  They have procedures they must follow, and they will follow them, but only if you take the initiative and call them every single day, which is the pattern I followed.

On the Sunday when I contacted the YAG they admitted to having no idea where my box was.  After 48 hours I was transferred to dealing with the AirAsia property department, based in Yangon.  They required the document from YAG to initiate proceedings, then informed me that if they could not find my luggage after two weeks the box would be declared missing and the compensation process would begin.  It did not sound likely that they would find my box, even at this stage.

Given this, I contacted the Australian National University Insurance office and sent them the YAG document I received from the airport.  They informed me that there was no harm in getting a claim ready, but that I could not lodge it formally until I received a confirmation of loss and compensation by the airline.  The ANU Insurance office diligently pointed me to the relevant documents, including guidelines for making the claim, which would go under the University’s travel insurance policy.

I have always purchased travel insurance but have never needed to make a claim.  The only time I ever considered it was back in 2008 when a pickpocket nabbed $150 from me in Ho Chi Minh City.  But the complicated process at the police station and the fact that the excess was not likely to cover the loss made me hesitate from proceeding with a claim at that time.  I was somewhat daunted to be finally making a travel insurance claim after so many years of travel, but the University Insurance office was very helpful.

AirAsia requested that I send them a photograph of the box to assist them in their search.  Luckily, I had one by coincidence.  I now recommend whenever checking in baggage of any consequence that all passengers should take a photograph of it.

AirAsia also could not handle the issue of the swapped baggage tags.  I had to really push this – in the end they contacted Melbourne Airport to receive confirmation that this occurred.  I also had to send them a photograph of the six-kilogram box with the nineteen-kilogram baggage tag – again, luckily I had kept this, but could just as easily have thrown it in the recycling by the time they asked for it.

After two weeks (and a few more days of pestering) I finally received confirmation from AirAsia that they had lost my box and that it had officially weighed nineteen kilograms.  I passed this on to the ANU Insurance office along with my travel insurance claim.  I then received confirmation from AirAsia that they would be compensating me $20USD per kilogram, for a total of $380USD, deposited into my Australian bank account.  A few days later, I then received the outcome of my ANU travel insurance claim.

The most important thing to note about my University’s, and many other, travel insurance policies as it regards to lost baggage is that they do not cover any checked-in electronic items.  I had a considerable amount of electronics in my lost box which the policy did not cover, including my second or “backup” laptop and camera equipment.  Thankfully the policy covered all of the other non-electronic items I claimed, such as books, clothes and specialist coffee-making equipment (some pleasures we cannot easily do without in the field).

In the end, the ANU travel insurance reimbursement came to $571 AUD.  So in total, I received nearly a thousand dollars, if the AirAsia and travel insurance reimbursements are taken together.  This covered most of the lost items in my baggage, enough to take the harsh edge off the loss.

Here’s a timeline of the process:

Date Event
January 20, 2017 · Arrival in Yangon
· Yangon Airport Group issues Baggage Loss document
January 24, 2017 · University Admin contacted
· ANU Insurance Office contacted
January 26, 2017 · AirAsia issues Property Irregularity Report
January 30, 2017 · Travel Insurance claim initially lodged
February 9, 2017 · Photograph of 6kg box with 19kg tag provided to AirAsia
February 12, 2017 · AirAsia confirms reimbursement of $380USD
· Bank details provided to AirAsia
February 13, 2017 · AirAsia provides final Confirmation of Loss document
· Confirmation of Loss provided to ANU Insurance Office
February 17, 2017 · Chubb Insurance provides Settlement Letter
· ANU Insurance Office confirms reimbursement of $571.46AUD
February 21, 2017 · Chubb Insurance reimbursement received
April 6, 2017 · AirAsia reimbursement received.

Passengers beware!  It’s a jungle out there.