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Your Chances Of Having An Airline Losing Your Bag Are Skyrocketing

Many experts are recommending not checking bags at all.

What's worse than beginning a long-awaited vacation with lost luggage and hours spent on hold figuring it out with the airline?

What was once a rare horror story to pull out at a party is becoming so commonplace many experts are recommending only traveling with a carry-on until the problem gets better.

What's With All These Abandoned Suitcases At Airports?

You have, by now, probably seen the photos of rows and rows of suitcases sitting abandoned at New York's JFK, L.A.'s LAX or London's Heathrow Airport.

While the problem is obvious to anyone who has spent time in an airport recently, the recent U.S. Department of Transportation recently put some numbers to it with a June report.

In April, U.S. airlines lost, damaged or delayed over 220,000 checked bags. That number is a 135% increase from a year ago, with American Airlines  (AAL)  named as the worst  offender with over 70,000 incidents. 

Alaska Airlines  (ALK) , Jet Blue, Delta  (DAL)  and United  (UAL)  followed American.

While the report was released in June, the spring period it looks at was before the problem of lost luggage started getting widespread news attention. Things only got worse since. Spain-based insurer Mapfre recently told Bloomberg that the number of travelers filing luggage-related claims surged by more than 30%.

At the start of July, Delta flew an Airbus A330-200 with no passengers but over 1,000 pieces of luggage from London to Detroit just to transport all the stranded bags that had accumulated in London over the preceding days.

Lost Luggage Lead KL

Why Does This Keep Happening?

As with most problems, airlines' ongoing luggage woes stem from a whole range of interconnected problems.

With the coronavirus vaccine now widely available, international and domestic airline travel is surging at a time when many countries still face a labor shortage of everyone from ground baggage handlers to pilots. After placing many such workers on furlough when travel shut down in 2020, airlines have been slow to rehire despite predictions of the resurgences seen now.

Airport workers in France, Spain and the United Kingdom have also recently held labor action for better work conditions while any delay exacerbates the baggage pile-ons and processing backlogs at many airports.

How Can I Check A Bag While Maintaining My Sanity?

While airlines have procedures in place for locating lost luggage, current conditions make it a gamble every time. It can take hours on hold and dozens of calls to reach a representative on a support line while, according to a recent report by flight compensation firm Claim Compass, 5% of the 28 million bags that are mishandled annually are irretrievably lost.

Lost Luggage Lead KL

That number has been increasing by over 2% each year.

Recommendations for minimizing problems include everything from placing AirTags inside checked bags to writing a phone number on the front of the bag in big letters in Sharpie. Alaska Airlines recently became the first U.S. airline to launch electronic bag tags for passengers to track their luggage.

But even so, the safest way to prevent loss is still to only bring a carry-on and not chance the baggage handlers until the situation improves.

"I would never, ever check a bag," Marc Casto, president of leisure brands in the Americas for Flight Centre Travel Group, told the Washington Post in June.

But jamming a carry-on to the brim is also not the panacea many say it is — with more and more people doing it, airlines will often require passengers to check them at the gate.