A passenger has claimed that American Airlines lost her luggage only to return it after five days with a dead rat inside.

“The whole trip with American Airlines was a bit of a nightmare and the rat in the bag was, for lack of better words, the cherry on top!” Merry Cannon, 36, told News.

Cannon, was supposed to fly with her husband and their two children for a business trip to Germany and France on March 5 but met with one inconvenience after the next, during their trip. After their flight from Fayetteville, Arkansas, was canceled due to a broken windshield, they missed their connecting flight to Chicago. The rescheduled flight from Arkansas was delayed by more than an hour on the tarmac before finally taking off.

Upon reaching Chicago, they were informed that all their seats in their rebooked connecting flight were given up and the family was forced to wait for hours to get a different flight out.

Of the array of issues they had to face during their trip, the biggest one was yet to come.

“They lost our luggage for five days,” Cannon said. “The night before we were leaving for London to return home, it was delivered at 10.30 pm. Honestly by then it was comical and my husband joked that at least when we get home we won’t have all that laundry to do.”

When they finally got back their luggage, Cannon noticed a putrid odor coming from them. She immediately got in touch with the American Airlines customer assistance desk to complain about the awful smell.

“I actually told them that it smelt like something had died. I of course didn’t think that was actually the case,” Cannon said.

A staff member at the help desk told her that the smell was probably due to the fact that Cannon’s luggage got wet as it sat on the tarmac. Other probable explanations like water from the plane’s lavatory had spilled on it or that the clothes had become moldy were also given.

Nevertheless, she was advised to wash the clothes to try and see if the smell dissipates. So Cannon emptied her luggage to wash its contents. That is when she discovered the horrifying source of the smell.

“I began to wash the clothes. I washed one load three times in bleach, vinegar, OxiClean and Tide,” Cannon said, describing her experience. “I finally decided whatever was on them would not come clean. I placed all those clothes in (rubbish) bags. I grabbed more clothes in hopes that maybe the bottom of the bag didn’t get wet, so they would come clean.”

“When I grabbed the clothes is when I saw the rat. I have never screamed and cried so much in my life. I ran inside and began scrubbing my hands and arms. I had touched the things in this bag because American Airlines told me to just wash everything,” she added.

A frantic Cannon called the airlines back to report what had happened and she was told to write everything down and that the mishap will be handled within two to three days. As a rodent-infested luggage was brought inside her house, she called up the Department of Health for advice.

“Literally for three minutes the health inspector just repeated, “OMG. This is horrible. I don’t even know that to say, I’m so sorry. I’m thinking,’” she said.

Cannon added: “Finally when I asked if the rat needed to be tested he said that because we don’t even know what country the rat is from that they wouldn’t even know where to start. I then asked if I should be concerned and he said, ‘The biggest concern would be the plague.’ That never even entered my mind.”

After learning that she should burn her luggage bag, where she found the rat, along with all its contents, Cannon called up the airlines again. The airlines assured her they will dispose of everything and she will be compensated.

However, as it turned out, the maximum compensation in question was lesser than the actual value of the contents inside her bag.

“Finally they told me that they would give me $US1600 ($A2100) which is the maximum international payout. My bag and its belongings totalled $US3217 ($A4230). To me that’s crazy that international has a payout that is about half as much as domestic,” she said.