What’s more anxiety-inducing than being one of the last ones waiting to reclaim your luggage, as the number of bags coming down the carousel begins to dwindle? I’ll tell you: nothing. Unfortunately, for those who share my apprehension surrounding lost or damaged luggage, it’s been a trying couple of months.
That’s because while the industry was busy recovering from the pandemic in 2021, the global mishandled baggage rate spiked by 24% to 4.35 bags per thousand passengers, per a study by aviation technology company SITA from earlier this year, much of which they credited to the resumption of international and long-haul flights.
A further breakdown of that study showed that “transfer bags” account for the largest piece of the mishandled pie, with 41% of bags being delayed at transfer — up four points from 2020. Delayed bags accounted for 71% of all mishandled bags in 2021 — up two points — while the number of lost and stolen bags increased to 6%.
A newer study by limousine booking service Price4Limo shows that, of the travelers they surveyed, 55% of them have had baggage lost…and only 34% of them eventually had their belongings returned to them. But thanks to data from Air Travel Consumer Reports, we now know that both the airline and airport involved have a pretty significant role to play in that.
Price4Limo determined that, of major U.S. carriers, American Airlines was the biggest luggage mishandler in 2022, losing 850 bags per 100,000, or .85% of all bags (I am sitting, and cringing, on an American, DFW-bound flight at the time of this writing), followed by JetBlue with 670, Alaska Airlines with 640 and United Airlines with 620.
As far as airports go, Chicago O’Hare International Airport reportedly lost the most amount of baggage, followed by Las Vegas’s Harry Reid International Airport, San Diego International Airport and Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. In other words, if you’re planning to fly American to Chicago any time in the foreseeable future, consider carrying on.
The reason for the increase in mishandled baggage is obvious: staffing shortages. “Airlines, ground handlers, and airports have downsized to maintain viability during the pandemic, which has impacted resources and expertise dedicated to baggage management,” the SITA report read. “Unaddressed, this challenge may see the mishandling rate continue to creep up and become much higher than it was pre-pandemic.”
But knowing the reality of the situation does little to quell concerns. The Price4Limo study also showed that 78% of respondents feel anxious checking luggage given the current climate. Even the 82% that said they always check bags copped to worrying every time they drop their baggage off. So if you, like me, find yourself flying on any of the worst offending airlines, or into the worst airports, and you’re banking on your bag being in the cargo hold below you? Ts and Ps.
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