Why and How Often Does Luggage Get Lost?

If you have ever found yourself waiting at baggage claim only to learn that your luggage did not arrive with you at your destination, you are not alone. Whether traveling for business or a much-needed vacation, being separated from your belongings can be a nightmare. Luggage may get delayed or lost due to human error or other accidental factors, and many millions of bags are lost by airlines each year.


That being said, there are certain practical solutions for dealing with lost luggage. Let’s take a look at how and why bags might go missing on their travels, and what passengers and airlines can do to reduce such occurrences.

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The most common luggage mishaps

Mishandling during transfer is one of the primary reasons why luggage may be delayed or lost. This can occur when handlers do not have adequate time to transfer bags between flights. The likelihood of mishandling increases the more baggage is transferred, making trips with multiple stops especially vulnerable to luggage complications. However, connecting itineraries are sometimes unavoidable.

Airport Luggage Cart

Other human errors, such as incorrect tagging or loading mistakes, can also result in lost luggage. Bags may be tagged for the wrong destination at check-in. Once again, incorrect tagging is more likely to occur when a trip involves connecting flights. Or, even if a bag is correctly tagged, luggage handlers may simply load a bag onto the wrong plane. While this rarely happens, it can’t be fully discounted.

How often is luggage mishandled?

According to a report known as the 2019 Baggage IT Insights published by SITA, an IT firm that provides baggage management solutions to over 400 airlines worldwide, 28 million bags are mishandled annually. Of this figure, 77% are delayed en route to their final destinations, while, unfortunately, another 5% are lost entirely. Recent events have also changed the complexion of baggage mishaps.

Indeed, it is true that luggage mishandling was not unheard of before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. However, the global health crisis inflicted many adverse impacts on the commercial aviation industry, including staffing shortages at busy airports. These foster conditions in which bags can be delayed or lost more easily.

Baggage Handler

Photo: Getty Images

Be prepared

Passengers lose control over what happens to their luggage once they check it at the airport. While it almost always arrives on the conveyor belt at the other end, we can never be totally sure until it’s actually there. Nonetheless, careful planning and preparation in advance of your trip can result in fewer headaches later.

Luggage handling mishaps are more likely to occur as the bag changes hands, so it is best to book direct flights whenever possible. Double-check that your bag has been tagged for the correct destination if the trip requires connecting flights. This will help ensure it doesn’t get removed from the cycle during your stopover.

Furthermore, it can also be wise to research your airline’s lost or delayed baggage policy in advance, in order to be aware of your rights. You might also want to explore trip insurance options, whether it be travel insurance that is purchased with the trip, or as a benefit from the issuer of the credit card used to purchase the airfare.

Overhead Locker

Photo: Tom Boon | Simple Flying

If your luggage is lost, information on any valuable items will be required to receive compensation. It is advisable to keep photographs and an inventory of packed items and purchase receipts, if possible. Bring any necessities or high-value items, such as medications, laptops, or jewelry, on your person or packed in your hand luggage rather than your checked bags. This way, you always know where they are.

What to do if your bag fails to arrive at your destination

Despite your best efforts in trip planning and preparation, you may still encounter delayed or lost baggage issues on your travels. The first and most important step is to visit the airline’s baggage counter at the airport to file a claim. Here, you will need to provide the address for where your bags should be returned if recovered.

This is also the prime opportunity to communicate with airline personnel regarding the baggage fee reimbursement and compensation policies, just in case your bag is significantly delayed or lost. Individual airline policies vary in this regard, but most will generally declare a bag lost if it is missing for five to 14 days.

Lugagge Check-In Queue

Photo: Getty Images

In the United States, DOT regulations stipulate that the airline must compensate travelers for their bags’ contents up to maximum liability limits. For domestic flights in the United States, the maximum liability amount is $3,800. For international flights, the Montreal Convention sets the maximum compensation at $1,780.

Tracking your baggage

Technology has now evolved to the extent that passengers can track their checked luggage throughout its journey using Apple devices known as AirTags.

These have been in the news a lot recently, with Lufthansa considering banning them. However, it backtracked on this after German authorities deemed them safe, and Simple Flying tried the technology out on a connecting itinerary last month.

Sources: SITA, US Department of Transportation



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