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An In-Depth Look at Lost Luggage at U.S. and European Airlines

What You Should Know About Checked Baggage and Your Luggage on Airlines


While their numbers may sound high, United Airlines is far from having the worst industry statistics, and from being alone in this problem. The Air Travel Consumer Report produced by the U.S. Department of Transportation documented that more than 3.1 million baggage reports were filed in 2008 and 4.4 million were filed in 2007. Southwest Airlines – which does not charge a separate fee for checked baggage until a third bag is checked – came in with the highest number of baggage reports both years: 476,902 reports in 2008 and 612,347 in 2007. But it’s important to consider passenger volume when looking at reports; Southwest had about 104 million enplaned passengers both years.

Based on voluntary submissions of data by 19 airlines for 12 months ending December 2008, the Air Travel Consumer Report ranked the following U.S. airlines as having the highest number of mishandled bags per 1,000 – enplaned passenger volume noted in parenthesis:

  1. American Eagle Airlines: 9.89 (16,244,392)
  2. Atlantic Southeast Airlines: 9.82 (12,344,839)
  3. Comair: 8.32 (8,190,831)
  4. Mesa Airlines: 7.89 (11,608,433)
  5. Skywest Airlines: 7.61 (21,041,922)
  6. Pinnacle Airlines: 7.55 (10,237,024)
  7. Epressjet Airlines: 6.39 (14,018,563)
  8. Delta Airlines: 5.98 (61,910,660)
  9. American Airlines: 5.71 (74,446,833)
  10. United Airlines: 5.24 (54,114,611)
  11. US Airways: 4.77 (50,388,949)
  12. Southwest Airlines: 4.55 (104,758,285)

While the U.S. baggage issue is concerning, the European market also has challenges that reveal even less success with checked baggage. Roughly 14.3 bags per 1,000 bags were missing between January and October 2008, according to data from the Association of European Airlines (AEA) which brings together 35 European established service and scheduled network carriers.

Based on voluntary submissions of data by 29 airlines, the AEA Summer 2008 Consumer Report (December 2008) ranked the following European airlines as having the highest number of mishandled bags per 1,000 – enplaned passenger volume noted in parenthesis:

  1. bmi: 24.5 (3,313,435)
  2. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines: 20.1 (15,169,831)
  3. TAP Portugal: 19.9 (5,958,008)
  4. Alitalia: 19.6 (12,733,122)
  5. British Airways: 18.9 (23,540,710)
  6. Air France: 16.9 (34,704,243)
  7. Air One: 14.1 (4,583,787)
  8. Iberia: 14.0 (17,699,229)
  9. Deutsche Lufthansa AG: 12.7 (36,008,113)
  10. LOT Polish Airlines: 12.3 (2,614,948)
  11. Luxair: 11.9 (402,854)
  12. Austrian: 11.7 (7,115,508)

Note: Aer Lingus, JAT Airways Olympic Airlines did not submit data; Ryanair was not included in the list.

The SITA reports that the U.S. numbers are lower “because they don’t include passengers connecting over international gateways traveling into America.”

To be sure, both U.S. and European airlines have made progress on reducing the level of mishandled checked baggage. The IATA has developed a Baggage Improvement Programme that is expected to result in continued improvements, and SITA has created integrated baggage management solutions – which recommends and offers bar code technology and baggage handling systems, are seen as delivering positive results.

Interestingly, the AEA points out that 85% of all bags on European carriers are delivered within the first 48 hours when missing, indicating that delayed flights cause tight transfer times and have a significant impact on missing baggage statistics.

“Flight delays lead to tight connections. The airlines are expert in getting passengers from one flight to another in these situations. Below the departure and arrival halls, in the baggage area, it is not always so easy to speed up the transfer process,” says AEA Secretary General Ulrich Schulte-Strathaus in the Summer 2008 Consumer Report, December 2008.

(continued on next page)

What You Should Know About Mishandled and Lost Airline Luggage, page 1
Should United Airlines’ Baggage Fees Raise Concern?, page 2
An In-Depth Look at Damaged and Lost Airline Luggage, page 3
Denied Boardings and Causes of Damaged and Lost Airline Luggage, page 4
What Is the Airlines Baggage Claims Process?, page 5

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