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This Is the Worst Airline for Lost Luggage

For the seven-year period of 2012 through 2018, airlines lost or damaged an average of three checked bags per every 1,000 air passengers, according to Department of Transportation data. A new report from LuggageHero based on the DOT data found that some airlines do a lot worse than average, however—with mishandled or lost luggage rates that are double the average.

Delta fared best, with only 1.55 checked bags mishandled per 1,000 passengers. And the small carrier Envoy Air (owned by American Airlines) was dubbed the worst with 6.76 mishandled bags per 1,000 passengers—which is more than four times the lost luggage Delta saw.

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Here’s how the other big carriers ranked for damaged or lost luggage:

  • Four small lines fared well. Frontier, Spirit, Hawaiian, and JetBlue were clustered closely just behind Delta at around two bags mishandled per 1,000 passengers.
  • United and Alaska clustered at around three pieces of lost luggage per 1,000 passengers.
  • Southwest and American are the bottom of the big lines, at 3.5 to 4.5 bags per 1,000 people.

The regional lines that feed bigger lines at major hubs—Express Jet, Skywest, and Envoy—all clustered at the very bottom of the performance numbers, mishandling six or more bags per 1,000 passengers.

The Lost Luggage Numbers

Comparing performance numbers over a seven-year span has an advantage over the more frequently posted yearly or monthly figures: Seven-year data smooth out the uneven levels of performance caused by unusual weather problems, strikes, airplane groundings, and such. The big disadvantage, of course, is that seven-year figures do not allow for genuine improvement over an extended time span.

Still, the most recent almost-annual data from the Department of Transportation show a similar pattern for the period January-November 2018:

  • Spirit and JetBlue, at 1.72 and 1.75, topped Delta’s 1.80 by a little, but Delta still scored well overall.
  • United, Alaska, Hawaiian, and Frontier were closely clustered at 2.51 to 2.65, with Southwest close at 2.81.
  • American scored well below the other big lines, at 3.77.
  • As in the earlier compilation, regional lines Skywest, Express Jet, and Envoy were at the bottom, with 4.18 to 5.76.

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Overall, good baggage handling is one of the several customer-service performance metrics that contribute to Delta’s emerging position as consistently outperforming rivals American and United.

LuggageHero, the source of the DOT data analysis, is one of the several new onsite agencies that arrange temporary baggage storage at multiple locations around big cities. It’s a useful service for travelers who need someplace to stash their stuff during those awkward hours between when they have to check out of a hotel and when their late plane or train leaves, or for any of other reasons.

As a methodology note, the Department of Transportation stopped releasing data on mishandled baggage in December, 2018, pending development of new metrics. And as a nit-picking grammatical note, hardly anybody recognizes a distinction between “baggage” and “luggage” these days: The official term in airline tickets and contracts is “baggage,” but lots of people seem to use the two terms interchangeably. The actual distinction is still there, as in this formula: Luggage plus your stuff in it equals baggage.

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Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuse every day at SmarterTravel.

By Ed Perkins

A nationally recognized reporter, writer, and consumer advocate, Ed Perkins focuses on how travelers can find the best deals and avoid scams.

He is the author of "Online Travel" (2000) and "Business Travel: When It's Your Money" (2004), the first step-by-step guide specifically written for small business and self-employed professional travelers. He was also the co-author of the annual "Best Travel Deals" series from Consumers Union.

Perkins' advice for business travelers is featured on MyBusinessTravel.com, a website devoted to helping small business and self-employed professional travelers find the best value for their travel dollars.

Perkins was founding editor of Consumer Reports Travel Letter, one of the country's most influential travel publications, from which he retired in 1998. He has also written for Business Traveller magazine (London).

Perkins' travel expertise has led to frequent television appearances, including ABC's "Good Morning America" and "This Week with David Brinkley," "The CBS Evening News with Dan Rather," CNN, and numerous local TV and radio stations.

Before editing Consumer Reports Travel Letter, Perkins spent 25 years in travel research and consulting with assignments ranging from national tourism development strategies to the design of computer-based tourism models.

Born in Evanston, Illinois, Perkins lives in Ashland, Oregon with his wife.

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