Air Canada lost baggage allegedly obtained by charity

An Air Canada customer who tracked her husband’s lost luggage to a public storage facility in Etobicoke, Ont. has been reunited with the bag four and a half months after it went missing.

Cambridge Ont.’s Nakita Rees says although she’s relieved to have the luggage back, her search for answers is not over. In particular, she’s concerned how the bag allegedly ended up in the hands of a charity.

Rees says last week, police obtained a warrant to open the storage unit where her AirTag tracking device showed her husband’s suitcase had been sitting since October.

It’s the culmination of a months-long ordeal for the couple.

In September, when they returned from their honeymoon in Italy and Greece, one of their three suitcases didn’t arrive from Montreal to Toronto.

The couple had placed an AirTag tracking device in the bag, and could see it was in Montreal. A month after they landed, they watched it travel down the highway to a public storage facility in Etobicoke, where they say they’ve watched it sit for the past three months.

“I have sent Air Canada numerous emails with screenshots, asking them why it’s there, what’s going on, we’ve [even] gone back to Pearson to speak to a manager,” Rees said.

Eventually, the couple travelled to the storage facility themselves, and walked around outside until the AirTag tracker said they were right on top of the bag. They also reported the incident to police.

Nakita Rees said they tracked their AirTag to a storage facility in Etobicoke. (Sumitted/Nakita Rees)

Then over the weekend, Rees says Toronto police told her a charity organization contracted by Air Canada had lawfully obtained the bag after it wasn’t claimed.

In a statement, Toronto police said theft reports made by four people related to lost luggage located with AirTags led them to the storage facility in Etobicoke.

“Through investigation, it was determined that a charity organization that is contracted by the airline carrier had lawfully obtained the luggage from the airline after the luggage was not claimed. The luggage was transported to a storage facility in Etobicoke,” police said in a statement to CTV News.

Rees said police told her they found around 500 bags in the storage unit and several of them had beeping AirTags inside.

LUGGAGE RETURNED

In a twist, Rees says her husband got a call from Air Canada’s global baggage department on Monday. She says the representative apologized and said their bag was found in a warehouse in Toronto and would be shipped to them later that day.

It was delivered to Rees’ workplace around 4:30 p.m.

While the couple is relieved to be reunited with their bag, Rees says she’s still frustrated and looking for accountability from the airline.

Although the couple received compensation for the lost bag, she says that’s not the point, and the amount was less than the total value of the luggage and its contents.

“I think they deserve to pay out as many people as they’ve done wrong, to be completely honest with you. I think that’s fair. I’m not here to take all their money – that was never the point in this – the point is I saw my bag leave a facility without Air Canada even knowing, according to them. It was put in a public storage facility, which I then had to go get a warrant to open. If I didn’t do that, there’d be no accountability to anyone,” she said.

AIR CANADA RESPONDS

In an emailed statement, Air Canada apologized for the delay and said it “previously provided the legally specified maximum compensation of approximately $2,300 in October.”

The airline said Rees travelled late in the summer when air carriers were still recovering from COVID-19-related disruptions.

“In this particular case, the situation was compounded by the disconnection of the baggage tag at some point on the journey. Despite our best efforts, it was not possible for us to identify the bag’s owner, it was designated as unclaimed, and we moved to compensate the customer,” the airline said in part. 

“Consistent with IATA policy and other carrier practices, customers whose bags cannot be located are eligible for compensation after 21 days and bags whose ownership cannot be determined can be disposed of after 90 days — something we do through a third-party company, which does make donations to charity.”

Meanwhile, Canada’s minister of transportation told CTV News the incident shows airlines need to do more to protect passengers’ belongings.

“It’s frustrating that airlines still have not modernized their luggage handling system and it’s really important that from the government point, we need to ensure customers’ rights are protected,” Minister of Transportation Omar Alghabra said.

LEGAL EXPERTS WEIGH IN

Marcus Bornfreund, a criminal defence lawyer based in Toronto, said this case is the first of its kind he seen.

“What gives Air Canada the right to donate that luggage? And I would say they don’t have it. They don’t have it contractually, and certainly, they don’t have it under criminal law. In fact, it could be a criminal offence in the sense that the theft or the unlawful possession of another person’s property is a criminal law matter,” said Bornfreund.

He said it sounds to him like “there’s no lawful excuse” as to why the bag ended up at the Etobicoke facility.

“The airline has a responsibility once it’s aware of its location. I would argue to make sure that it ends up in the lawful hands of the owner and not collecting dust in a storage facility without explanation,” he said.

Gabor Lukacs, the president of Air Passenger Rights, said he hopes to see a meaningful investigation.

“Donating someone else’s property has a name. It’s theft,” said Lukacs. “We are not talking about unclaimed baggage. We’re talking about baggage reported as missing, and as I understand, there are hundreds of bags in the same facility.”

Lukacs said even if a passenger were to abandon their bag, it is still their property, especially if it is reported missing.

“The airline has some very significant responsibility to reunite you with your bag,” he said. “They made a contract to transport the baggage and that contract includes the obligation to hand you back the baggage unless they can show somehow you proactively abandoned your baggage.”

He said most importantly, the onus is on the airline to track and give back the bag to the passenger, and not the other way around.

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