Out of the 113 million bags that were checked on domestic flights in the first three months of 2023, over 721,000 were mishandled for an average of 0.64 bags per 100 checked bags, per the U.S. Department of Transportation. That’s up from 2019, when 0.59 bags were mishandled per 100 checked bags.
And the unfortunate reality is, outside of simply not checking a bag, there really isn’t much you can do to preclude it from happening it to you…except you can be sure to strip your bag of any and all old stickers from previous trips. That’s the takeaway from (what appears to be) a baggage handler featured in a TikTok posted by California’s Ontario International Airport last month, which, at the time of writing, had more than 467,000 views.
“Let’s say you flew American, and then a month later, you flew Southwest. Well, there’s a little sticker that goes on for American that tells the computer that it should go to there. So if your month-old American sticker is on there, there’s a chance it scans it instead of [the Southwest] one,” the employee says in the video. From there, it’s possible that the bag is loaded onto another plane…or, more likely, no plane at all.
It’s not particularly revelatory advice — most frequent fliers already know to do this and, even if they don’t, passenger assistants almost always will prior to retagging — but it is good practice, and arguably even more prevalent than ever with the rise of self-service check-ins (read: not as much passenger assistant oversight).
“There’s no benefit to leaving old bag tags on your checked luggage,” Going founder Scott Keyes told USA Today. “Any risk of a resulting mix-up, however slight, is higher than the nonexistent benefit.” Because while the risk of old stickers causing mishaps “isn’t terribly high,” it’s “not zero,” either.
Of course, it’s worth noting that about a third of all mishandling occurs when transferring bags to a connecting flight. Further, according to the 2023 Baggage IT Insights study from SITA — an information technology company that provides telecommunications services to the aviation community — mishandling rates for international flights and, more specifically, international flights with connections, are eight times higher than for domestic flights. To that end, your best bet is to book direct. (Though, do still take old stickers off your bag.)
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