Why and How Often Does Luggage Get Lost?

If you have ever found yourself waiting at baggage claim only to learn that your luggage did not arrive with you at your destination, you are not alone. Whether traveling for business or a much-needed vacation, being separated from your belongings can be a nightmare.

Luggage may get delayed or lost due to human error or other accidental factors, and over a million bags are lost by airlines each year. But there are practical solutions for dealing with lost luggage.

The most common luggage mishaps

Mishandling during transfer is one of the primary reasons why luggage may be delayed or lost. This can occur when luggage handlers do not have adequate time to transfer bags between flights. The likelihood of mishandling increases the more baggage is transferred, making trips with multiple stops especially vulnerable to luggage complications.


Tagging your bag can help airlines and airports reunite you with lost luggage. Photo: Pxhere

Other human errors, such as incorrect tagging or loading mistakes, can also result in lost luggage. Bags may be tagged for the wrong destination at check-in. Incorrect tagging is more likely to occur when a trip involves connecting flights. Or, even if a bag is correctly tagged, luggage handlers may simply load a bag onto the wrong plane.

How often is luggage mishandled?

According to the 2019 Baggage IT Insights published by SITA, an IT firm that provides management solutions to over 400 airlines worldwide, 28 million bags are mishandled annually. Seventy-seven percent of those bags are delayed, while five percent are entirely lost.

Seventy-seven percent of those bags are delayed, while five percent are entirely lost.

While luggage mishandling was not unheard of before COVID-19, the pandemic has the onset of many commercial adverse effects on the commercial aviation industry, including staffing shortages, that foster conditions in which bags can be delayed or lost more easily.

Be prepared

You may not have control over what happens to your luggage once you check it at the airport, but careful planning and preparation in advance of your trip can result in fewer headaches later.

Luggage handling mishaps are more likely to occur as the bag changes hands, so it is best to book direct flights whenever possible. Double-check that your bag has been tagged for the correct destination if the trip requires connecting flights.

It is wise to research your airline’s lost or delayed baggage policy in advance and explore trip insurance options, whether it be travel insurance that is purchased with the trip or as a benefit from the issuer of the credit card used to purchase the airfare.

Bring anything essential with you in your carry-on. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

If your luggage is lost, detailed information on any valuable items will be required to receive compensation. It is packed to keep photographs and an inventory of items and purchase receipts, if possible. Bring any necessities or high-value items, such as medications, laptops, or jewelry, on your person or packed in your hand luggage rather than your checked bags.

Read more: The five most essential things to pack in your hand luggage

What to do if your bag fails to arrive at your destination

Despite your best efforts in trip planning and preparation, you may still encounter delayed or lost baggage issues.

The first and most important step is to visit the airline’s baggage counter at the airport to file a claim. Provide the address for where your bags should be returned if recovered. This is also the prime opportunity to inquire with airline personnel as to the baggage fee reimbursement and compensation policies just in case your bag is significant delayed or lost.

Individual airline policies vary, but most will declare a bag lost if it is missing for five to 14 days. In the United States, US Department of Transportation regulations stipulate that the airline must compensate travelers for their bags’ contents up to maximum liability limits. For domestic flights in the United States, the maximum liability amount is $3,800. For international flights, the Montreal Convention sets maximum compensation at $1,780.

Sources: SITA, US Department of Transportation

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