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Is United's policy on gate-checked strollers consistent with DOT policy?

Is United's policy on gate-checked strollers consistent with DOT policy?

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Old Sep 19, 17, 8:40 am
  #1  
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Is United's policy on gate-checked strollers consistent with DOT policy?

I recently gate-checked a stroller on a UA domestic flight.

I learned after the flight that UA considers gate-checked bags to be "Checked Baggage" and says in the contract of carriage that "UA is not liable for damage to strollers when carried as Checked Baggage", in other words if you choose to buy a plane ticket and gate-check a stroller, you agree that UA can destroy your stroller if they like.

Is this policy consistent with 14 CFR 254.4? I just learned that the DOT issued guidance in fall 2015 saying "look guys, I know that you say you don't cover damage to zippers, handles, or wheels, but you can't do that under federal rules" (https://www.transportation.gov/airco...uidance-112415 , https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/14/254.4 ).

Some more on this one specific super boring stroller damage:

On arrival after getting back my gate-checked stroller, I noticed that there were some scuffs on the outside of the stroller, as though it had been dragged on the ground. I had some free time and was curious about this so I
asked UA gate agent and customer service whether this was normal and they told me to talk to the baggage office. I asked the baggage office whether this was normal damage and they said "Oh, we don't cover strollers" and pointed to a sign on the wall. Which was the sign saying that they didn't cover electronic devices. I asked, in confusion, hmm, is a stroller an electronic device?

No, they said. Wait just a minute. They came back a few minutes later with a highlighter and two copies of the contract of carriage, one with some sections highlighted. Using that one as a template, they painstakingly highlighted the CoC copy to highlight this text:


Strollers – United accepts one collapsible stroller in addition to a Passenger’s baggage allowance. One non-collapsible stroller may be carried as Checked Baggage in lieu of one piece of Baggage (62 inches Maximum Outside Linear Dimensions). This item will be included in determining the Baggage Allowance, and when in excess, overweight or oversize, such item will be subject to the Excess Baggage Charge. Except for certain International Carriage subject to the terms of the Montreal Convention, UA is not liable for damage to strollers when carried as Checked Baggage. Excess valuation may not be purchased for strollers.
I said, huh, that's confusing. Are you saying that if I gate-check a stroller, that counts as Checked Baggage and I should plan for you to destroy it?

Yes, they said, that's about right. Normally when I travel with my own kids, they said, I use a low-cost umbrella stroller.

Well, ok, I said, fair enough. But this wasn't actually my question -- I was just wondering if this kind of damage is normal. This is the 6th sector I have flown with this stroller gate-checked and the first time I have seen this kind of scuffing. Does that happen a lot?

They kind of looked at me. Well, of course it could happen. We break stuff. Duh.

I'm wondering now in retrospect whether UA's "hey we don't cover that" is allowed under federal rules.
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Old Sep 19, 17, 11:45 am
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File a DOT complaint and test it.

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Old Sep 19, 17, 12:25 pm
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Originally Posted by mherdeg View Post
.... I noticed that there were some scuffs on the outside of the stroller, ....
Why would not this be considered "fair wear and tear"? Which the DOT considers exempt.

Last edited by WineCountryUA; Sep 19, 17 at 12:54 pm Reason: missing "not"
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Old Sep 19, 17, 12:45 pm
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Originally Posted by WineCountryUA View Post
Why would this be considered "fair wear and tear"? Which the DOT considers exempt.
Oh yeah in my case the "damage" certainly seemed like normal wear and tear. I mean, sorta -- there are these weird black marks that won't wash out, but that stuff happens, you know?. The odd thing was that when I asked a UA agent they didn't say "oh yeah we can cause minor wear and tear", they said "our CoC allows us to destroy a stroller and incur no liability -- check out this term", which was interesting news to hear.

I went ahead and asked the DOT whether this CoC term violates 14 CFR 254.4, will report what I hear back.
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Old Sep 19, 17, 12:47 pm
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I think what you're looking for is on this page:
If requested by the customer, United can check strollers at the departure gate. United is not liable for damage to strollers. Customers cannot purchase excess valuation for strollers.
That is regarding gate-checked strollers, not (normally) checked strollers, which is what you posted. The result is the same, though, "not liable for damage".

I do not know if this policy is DOT compliant. I can only assume that it is as it is still listed on the web site roughly two years after the DOT notice you cited. You would have to contact the DOT, as has already been suggested, to know for sure.

I believe that the reason the airline does not want to assume liability for strollers is that strollers are rather easy to damage and are not well protected as is most luggage. I have seen passengers put their strollers in bags prior to gate-checking them which should help somewhat. I can't recall ever seeing a stroller returned to the jetbridge damaged though I'm sure it does happen.
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Old Sep 19, 17, 12:56 pm
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The Guidance is carefully written only to prohibit categorical disclaimers for specific parts of otherwise acceptable luggage.

Guidance is not issued, it is drafted, circulated, commented on and redrafted to deal with these situations.

The risk DOT has avoided is that while it could certainly have included all disclaimers under Section 254.4, doing so would either have resulted in carriers either requiring that such items, e.g. strollers be crated or that there be a special fee for them.

DOT isn't always the best, but on this stuff, it is thought through.

If you believe that the Guidance should be amended, a complaint to Enforcement is not the best route. Send it to the general counsel (address and email for regulatory proposals on DOT website).
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Old Sep 19, 17, 1:23 pm
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Originally Posted by Often1 View Post
If you believe that the Guidance should be amended, a complaint to Enforcement is not the best route. Send it to the general counsel (address and email for regulatory proposals on DOT website).
Great idea, thanks. I'll do that.

Now what do you suppose I should about UA's violation of the Nov enforcement guidance?

I just realized that the conversation I had in early Sept went like this:
Me: I'd like to report that my gate-checked stroller was damaged.
UA: We don't cover strollers. See here in our CoC?
and they refused to file a damaged-baggage report. Now, I am just re-reading the very carefully worded, thoughtfully crafted, drafted, commented, and published Nov 2015 DOT guidance on zippers and wheels, and I see

To avoid an unfair practice of categorically disclaiming liability without proper investigation, all reports of mishandled baggage should be accepted for review, regardless of whether the carrier’s agent believes that the claim will result in reimbursement. [2]


[2]: The Department’s baggage-handling statistics rule, 14 CFR 234.6, states that each reporting carrier shall report monthly to the Department the “total number of mishandled-baggage reports filed with the carrier.” This notice is consistent with longstanding reporting requirements of the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS). See BTS Accounting and Reporting Directive 157 (March 27, 1992) (baggage reports include those “which do not result in a claim for compensation.”)
Do you suppose that UA's actions around my mildly damaged stroller did *not* violate DOT guidance? It kind of seems like they had exactly the conversation that the DOT said they're not supposed to have ("Go away, we don't cover that, we're not filing a report"). What should we do about that?
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