Q: I need your help with a missing camera. I flew from Boston to Minneapolis on US Airways. When I boarded the flight in Boston, the overhead bins were full. A flight attendant told me I would have to gate-check my carry-on bag.
I didn't have time to remove my camera -- the attendant just asked me where I was going and took the bag from me quickly.
When I arrived in Minneapolis, the camera was gone. I filed a report with US Airways, but it now says it won't reimburse me for the camera, because it isn't liable for the loss under its contract. That doesn't seem fair. Can you help? -- Haijun Shan, Minneapolis
A: You're right, it isn't fair. US Airways, like other major airlines, has a provision in its domestic contract of carriage -- the legal agreement between you and the airline -- that it isn't liable for electronics in your checked bag. So if you had willingly checked your camera in your carry-on, you'd be out of luck.
But you intended to carry your camera on the plane. So basically, US Airways was forcing you to check an item for which it wouldn't assume responsibility. That's not an ideal situation.
I mediated a similar case with US Airways years ago, and it got me into all kinds of trouble. A flight attendant had also forcibly gate-checked a bag that contained valuables, which were then pilfered. The airline refused to replace them, citing its contract. Eventually, the airline compensated the passenger, but only after a public and very messy fight with yours truly.
Let's take a moment to understand what probably caused this problem: luggage fees. If airlines included the first checked bag in the price of their tickets, then more passengers would check their bags, freeing up overhead bin space.
If you're ever in a situation like this again -- and I hope you aren't -- try to slow things down. The attendant is in a hurry, preparing the cabin for departure. But you aren't. Don't let go of the bag until you're sure all of your valuables are with you.
I reviewed the correspondence between you and US Airways. The customer service representatives responded to your inquiry with a series of form letters that invoked their contract. You were getting nowhere.
I contacted US Airways on your behalf. It has agreed to cover the lost camera.
Christopher Elliott is the author of "Scammed: How to Save Your Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles, and Shady Deals" (Wiley). He's also the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the co-founder of the Consumer Travel Alliance, a nonprofit organization that advocates for travelers. Read more tips on his blog, elliott.org or e-mail him at email@example.com. Christopher Elliott receives a great deal of reader mail, and though he answers them as quickly as possible, your story may not be published for several months because of a backlog of cases.