Air travel comes with plenty of inconveniences; tight seats, luggage fees, cramped carry-ons, 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.

Low Odds

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 2022, there were only about 7 reports of mishandled bags per 1,000 passengers. That year, the rate of mishandled baggage has actually grown slightly, but is still quite small when comparing it to all of the data that has been recorded since 1987.

Surveys have shown that of all the major airlines, American Airlines and Allegiant were rated as slightly more likely to lose a bag, while Delta Air Lines, U.S. Airlines and Southwest were rated as some of the least likely.

Why It Gets Lost

So why do airlines lose checked bags 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 at the carousel 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 Baggage

You can take steps to minimize the chances of lost bags. As a bare minimum, make sure that you fill out the identification card on your suitcase with your full name, phone number, and email address. Outfit your bag with a microchip, apple airtag or high-tech luggage tag that helps in identifying its owner or even lets you track the location of the bag. 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 all your pieces of 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 and stickers so your bag isn't accidentally picked up by another passenger. Avoid booking short layovers on connecting flights, 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.

Additionally, if you’re scared of losing something precious, make sure to store all of your valuables in your carry-on bag that you get to keep on your person. That way if there is a mishandling of your checked lugagge all you’re losing is some toiletries and clothes.

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 and $1,780 for international flights according to the Department of Transportation (DOT). They decide the amount based on original purchase prices minus depreciation. By law, airlines must provide reimbursement for checked baggage fees if they lose your bag. You can also buy travel insurance to get full coverage of the items in your baggage.