The Odds of Losing Luggage
Air travel comes with plenty of inconveniences; tight seats, luggage fees, short layovers and delayed flights can ruin your travel experience. Lost luggage is, thankfully, a rare occurrence, but it does happen. Understanding the reasons why airlines lose luggage in the first place can help you avoid the situation altogether.
Odds are slim your airline will lose your luggage. According to the Air Travel Consumer Report issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation, you face less than a 1 percent chance that a major airline will misplace your bags; in 2012, there were only 3.09 reports of mishandled bags per 1,000 passengers. That year, airlines set a record for the lowest rate of mishandled baggage since the data first was recorded in 1987.
Why It Gets Lost
So why do airlines lose luggage in the first place? Sometimes, the routing label gets damaged in transit, or the label was misprinted. At that point, airlines are unable to tell where to route your luggage. If you haven't filled out your contact information on your bag's identification card, there's almost no way of getting your bag back. Or maybe you simply forgot to pick up the bag when you left the airport; in that case, it gets placed in the carrier's unclaimed baggage area. Human error also can be the cause of lost luggage, as when an attendant enters an incorrect destination airport, or if your bag gets placed on the wrong plane. If the latter happens, the airline reroutes your bag to the correct destination.
Preventing Lost Luggage
You can take steps to minimize the chances of lost luggage. Outfit your bag with a microchip or high-tech luggage tag that helps in identifying its owner, or fill out the identification card on your suitcase. When you check in, double-check that the attendant has printed your tag correctly and that it has the correct destination airport. Take a photo of your luggage so you can show it to the airline if it's lost; pictures are more reliable than verbal descriptions. Use colorful markers such as bright luggage tags or neon duct tape so your bag isn't accidentally picked up by another passenger. Avoid booking short layovers, which can increase the chances of your bag not making it to your next flight. Check in as early as possible, ensuring the airline has enough time to get your bag to the plane.
What to Do
If your bag doesn't appear at the baggage claim, report it as missing before you leave the airport. You can file a claim, but there's often a deadline to do so. Doing this before you even leave the airport helps speed up the process. Airlines can be held accountable for up to $3,300 in replacement costs for domestic flights. They decide the amount based on original purchase prices minus depreciation. By law, airlines must reimburse you for checked baggage fees if they lose your bag.