The following was written on July 24, 2004. I have flown since then--and I allowed the flight crew to handle my carry-on bags!
It seems my CPAP machine was damaged on the return flight yesterday. I'm assuming so since it was fine Thursday night and now it's smoking. I called the airline, and because it was a carry-on they don't assume responsibility for damage. I understand the concept since most people handle their own carry-ons independently. However, because I can't reach the overhead bins and can't identify my own bags visually, and because it can be difficult to maneuver bags and guide dog through the plane quickly, airline personnel are often handling my bags and I have no way to insure they are not dropped or mishandled. If the airline doesn't assume responsibility for carry-ons, then I'll have to find ways to manage this myself in the future, and airline personnel should never offer and should refuse to handle a person's bags if asked. I'm very angry, I am afraid to sleep, and I have no money to get the machine repaired.
I'm not sure that I would go so far now as to say that the crew should refuse to handle a person's bags if asked--there may be legitimate reasons for the person to need that help. However, that help should come with the disclaimer that the airline is not responsible for any damage to the contents of the bags. Ideally, I'd like to see changes in the airline policy regarding liability for damage to carry-on items which were handled by flight crew or assistance personnel. It is now common for flight crew to move someone's bags if the flight is too full.