The Airlines Most Likely To Lose, Misdirect Or Damage Your Luggage (& What To Do If It Happens)

It’s happened to everyone at some point. You arrive in Austin on American Airlines, while your checked luggage arrives in Boise (that really did happen to us, several years ago. They got the bag to us about 12 hours later). Or you arrive at JFK on United and your 4-wheeled bag now has 3 wheels…or a rip…or a dent (that happened to me too, 20+  years ago). Or you arrive in San Francisco on SouthWest and your bag just…disappears. Forever (Well, eventually they’ll find it, but if they can’t figure out who it belongs to, like if your luggage tag broke off and there’s no airline sticker on the bag, it’ll eventually wind up at this place. You don’t want it to go there.).

As it turns out, there is a group paying attention to, not only how often peoples’ bags are lost, misdirected or damaged, but also which airlines do the most and least amounts of losing, misdirecting and damaging. Of course, trying to figure out the U.S. Dep’t of Transportations’ info is like searching for a needle in a haystack, but luckily another group has done the hard work for us. posts that based on analysis of the USDT’s figures, more than a half a million pieces of baggage are expected to be mishandled in some way during the country’s most busy travel time of the year, with December and January leading the way.

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Using the USDT’s figures since 2012, they also have reported Delta to be the best airline in terms of mishandling the least amount of suitcases (about 1.5 bags per 1000 bags) and Envoy Air to be the worst, with over 5 bags per 1,000. Here are the rankings:

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It’s not lost on me that Spirit Airlines ranked as the second best airline in terms of messing with your luggage; I’m still not going to fly on them 😉 And did you see that JetBlue is #3? They’re one of our favorites!

On the whole, those statistics aren’t all that awesome but they could be worse. In fact, they have been! says that, overall, complaints about mishandled luggage have dropped 27% since 2012. And some airlines (United is one of them) have improved by more than 50 percent. In fact, in September 2017, U.S. airlines chalked up the lowest monthly rate of mishandled baggage reports — 1.99 per 1,000 passengers — in 30 years.

I wonder if less complaints are in correlation with people not checking luggage as often in an attempt to save on check baggage fees, but I can’t find any studies about that. Would be interesting to see, though.

What to do if your bag is mishandled

Thanks to for the following list – it really is perfect!

  • If your bag doesn’t arrive, or is damaged or tampered with, report it to the airline immediately, preferably while you’re at the airport. Otherwise, call them as soon as possible. Document as much as you can with photos, and save any communication you can. (Note from Sharon – most major airlines have an office or at least a kiosk right by baggage claim)
  • Make sure that a proper report is filed and that you get a copy of it.
  • If you’re flying within the United States, DOT rules state that your baggage is covered up to $3,500 per passenger and $1,536 internationally. To collect, you need to fill out the necessary forms and have proof of loss.
  • If your bag is damaged, request repair or replacement. (Note from Sharon: When my bag was badly damaged, way back in the mid-90s, they had a bunch of name brand replacement bags right there at the office and I was able to pick one and swap it for my bag that they broke)
  • If your bag is lost and you need to replace essential items, the airline should reimburse you for those costs.
  • If you paid a fee to check the bag, ask for a refund of the fee.
  • If you used a travel agent, ask the agent to assist.
  • If you paid by credit card and if you have travel insurance, ask if those agreements cover baggage loss or damage.

Having your luggage lost, delayed or broken is definitely a bummer but I’m glad it’s happening less than it used to. Hopefully you’ll never be one of those 2 or 3 per 1,000 people whose bags are mishandled, but if you are, at least you now know what to do. Good luck!

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary

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