A newlywed couple from Cambridge, Ont. waited months to get their lost luggage back. After a Toronto police investigation recently discovered a charity organization “lawfully obtained” the suitcase, some wonder how it was within Air Canada’s right to allegedly give away the missing bag.
Nakita Rees and her husband had travelled to Italy and Greece for their honeymoon in September. But when they returned home, one of their three suitcases didn’t make it back from Montreal to Toronto.
Thanks to an AirTag that was inside, Rees tracked the missing luggage to still be in Montreal. A month later, the couple saw its location move, down a highway, and end up at a storage facility in Etobicoke, where it stayed for the last three months.
Rees told CTV News Kitchener they reported the incident to Toronto police, who, over the weekend, informed her a charity organization contracted by Air Canada had lawfully obtained the bag after it wasn’t claimed.
“The luggage was transported to a storage facility in Etobicoke,” police said in a statement to CTV News.
After it was discovered Air Canada had allegedly donated it to a local charity, some wondered how it was legal for the airline to do so.
“What gives Air Canada the right to donate that luggage? I would say they don’t have it, they don’t have it contractually, and certainly, they don’t have it under the criminal law,” Marcus Bornfreund, a criminal defence lawyer based in Toronto, told CTV News Toronto Monday.
“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.”
Bornfreund said it sounds to him like “there’s no lawful excuse” as to why the bag ended up in Etobicoke.
“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.
In an emailed statement to CTV News, Air Canada apologized for the delay in getting Rees’ bag back, and noted the couple travelled at a period of time when air carriers were still recovering from pandemic-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 statement reads.
In line with International Air Transport Association’s policy, the airline said customers whose bags cannot be located after 21 days are eligible for compensation. Meanwhile, Air Canada adds that bags whose ownership cannot be determined after 90 days will be disposed of – “something we do through a third-party company, which does make donations to charity.”
But Gabor Lukacs, president of Air Passenger Rights, argues the policy doesn’t trump travellers’ ownership of their bags.
“If you abandon your baggage waiting to arrive on a belt, there’s something to be said about what will happen with it. But, it is still your property if you report it as missing when you leave the airport,” Lukacs told CTV News Toronto Monday.
He adds airlines have a significant responsibility to reunite passengers with their luggage, and that it’s up to the airline to track passengers’ bags.
“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,” Lukacs said.
With files from CTV Kitchener’s Carmen Wong and Alison Sandstrom