How often does luggage go missing?

I’m taking a trip soon and all I’m hearing from friends and family is advice on what to do if my luggage goes missing.

I fly four or five times per year and have been for the past decade. During all this time, I’ve had one incident with misplaced luggage and it was quickly sorted out. I’ve had way more problems with Amtrak or Greyhound.

But scare me anyway… How often have you had an airline lose your luggage? What are the best ways to avoid this happening?

I have fewer problems with airlines losing luggage than I do with airlines destroying luggage. They even have rules set up so they can destroy your stuff and not be held liable! Tore along a seam? Not their fault. Handle ripped off? Not their fault. The only thing they take any responsibility for is if an employee stabs the hell out of it in a fit of rage. I only bring carry on bags whenever possible, partly because of the several times I have had a bag ripped or something and partly because they charge a minimum of $15 to check a bag now.

I’ve flown I think at least a couple of times a year for many years, and I’m pretty sure my luggage was only lost once. Unfortunately this was when I was first going away to college, so my only possessions for the next few days (for some reason it took them a while to sort things out) were what I had in my carry-on. Now that I think about it there may have been one other time my bag was delayed, but I was going home anyway so it was no big problem that my suitcase arrived the next day.

I don’t know that there’s anything special you can do to keep your luggage from getting lost. I figure it’s most likely to happen if you have to be bumped to another flight at the last minute, but you can’t really avoid that. The best thing to do is keep all your daily essentials (toiletries, medication, etc.) in your carry-on, as well as a clean shirt, socks, and underwear. Then you’ll be okay even if your bags are delayed.

I can’t remember anyone I know ever having their bags totally and permanently lost.

Luggage that is permanently lost is rare, although occasionally it is merely delayed. If you want actual statistics (for October 2008), read this Adobe Acrobat document from the US Department of Transportation. For all airlines, the number of luggage reports per thousand passengers is 3.55, although that includes “lost, damaged, delayed or pilfered baggage.”

The usual advice is not to check anything valuable, prescription medicines or anything else you can’t live without for a day or so. And I usually carry on a couple of changes of clothes, in case of an unexpected delay.

Airline-type fellow here checking in.

Industry average MBR (for Mishandled Baggage Ratio or Reports, which includes not only delayed luggage, but also pilfered and damaged) can range from 1-10, depending on the carrier. The BTS keeps track of public data.

That number is per 1,000 enplaned customers, by the way. So an airline with an MBR of 5 will have 5 reports per 1,000 customers, or about .5%. Of that number, some are damaged and pilfered, the rest being delayed. Of the number of delayed bags, the number of lost bags (ie: those that are never found; including those lifted by unscrupulous airline employees, claimed off the carousel by other customers, fraudulent reports from customers, or some other crazy-ass scenario where a bag can actually disappear) is very tiny.

Airlines are very good about getting things where they need to go, whether they be people or bags (though not necessarily in a timely manner). An actual honest-to-god lost bag is very rare.

That said, there’s really not much you, as the customer, can do. Making sure the bag is uniquely identifiable as yours is a good step. Everyone has a black roller bag, and it’s possible someone might pick yours up. But it’s less likely if you have a huge pink scarf tied to it.

Putting a nametag on and/or inside your luggage is another good step to take. If a tag comes off of your luggage, the first thing airport employees will do is open it up to determine if there’s anything with a name or address inside. The more of these, the better.

It wouldn’t hurt to minimize the number of connections you make, either. I realize that this one may not be at all possible given your particular travel arrangements and budget, but if your primary concern is your baggage, consider that every stop you make is another point where your bag may potentially end up in dozens of hands and on dozens of belts.

Aside from that, there’s really not much you can do. Check it and hope for the best. Honestly, the chances of anything happening are statistically slim.

I’ve flown probably about 100-150 times (not counting multiple legs between origin and destination), here’s my tally:

Bags lost: 0
Bags damaged beyond repair: 4
Bags not available at my destination when I arrived, that was known before I even took off, and the bag was later couriered to me at my hotel with no involvement on my part: 1
Bags that were apparently lost to the point that I was submitting a claim at the lost baggage office, only to have a staff member find it on some other luggage carousel: 1
Bags that somehow made it to my destination before I did, and were sitting outside the unclaimed baggage office: 1

Now that I think about it, I probably on check baggage on 1 in 4 flights, so that’s quite a high number.

The one and only time I somehow managed to skip the important “keep a set of essentials in your carry-on just in case” step, I ended up stuck in a hub airport mid-trip (sans luggage) for a day and a half. Sod’s Law.

I fly pretty frequently and have never had a bag lost, and only one damaged. I think of the “lost bag” story as a reminder to pack a spare set of clothes (or underwear, depending) and anything I can’t do without in a carry-on–it’s more like insurance than a response to a great imminent threat.

100% of the time.

It’s a very small sample size, though. And “missing” is an overstatement. I’ve taken 2 flights in which I’ve checked luggage. After these experiences, I put EVERYTHING in my carry on.

First time some one mistakenly took our luggage, realized they made a mistake and gave the bag to security. Meanwhile we stood watching the carousel go 'round and 'round and 'round. . . until there was nothing on it. It took American a good 3 hours to find out where the bag was.

The second time was the return trip of the first time. This time the carousel broke. Instead of hauling out the luggage by hand, United CLOSED THEIR WINDOW because they didn’t want to hear the whole plane-ful of people bitching. Our flight got in at 9pm. The airport closed and we were all still standing there, waiting for our luggage. You could actually see the luggage if you peered behind the carousel wall.

We got our luggage because United (yeah, different airline coming back) called the cops at 2 am after passangers tried to crawl up the carousel to get their stuff. I don’t know if it was the cops or if United personnel finally came to their senses but they started handing out bags one by one.

Pardon me if I’m inferring incorrectly, but was there something more you think American could have done? For all they know, your luggage was delivered to the carousel. From there, I have no expectation of an airline to track my bags, as they are no longer in their possession.

Honestly, in this instance, you got lucky that the person who grabbed your bag was honest and returned it. American got lucky, too, in that something beyond their control didn’t end up being blamed on them.

Re: the second instance-- that’s not a lost or delayed bag incident. That’s a failure of equipment, and an ensuing failure of customer service on the part of United. It wouldn’t be fair to file this under “lost luggage,” though.

So if I’m reading correctly, in re: the OP’s question of “How often have you had an airline lose your luggage?” your answer would really be never.

In the past 28 years, and probably 400 flights, I’ve only had bags delayed 3 times, and one of those was from a last minute change when my flight got canceled and I scooted on to another one at the last minute. No bags have ever been destroyed. The case mentioned above was the only one when I was on the way out, not on the way home. Still, all pills and stuff goes with me.

I’ve only lost a bag once, but the airline (Delta, IIRC, but I was 5 when it happened, so who really knows?) lost it for about 3 days.

I remember mostly because we got do FL (Disney!) and the first thing we had to do was go shopping for clothes for me & my sister. All our stuff was in the same suitcase.

I’ve flown several times a year in the last 23 or so years since then, and haven’t lost any checked baggage.

I always carry on important/very expensive things though. My digital camera never goes in a checked bag, for example.

ETA: I have had a bag that got ripped down the side, but I don’t think the airline can take all the blame in this case - it’s a pretty cheap bag, and the other bags in the set showed a ton of wear & tear just from being used & loaded in the car.

Hey now, I didn’t mean to get all up in the American’s grill or nothing. The OP asked how many times has your luggage gone missing. My answer is “Twice”-- plus an explanation. Anyone can take away what they will from it.

So, honestly, I was lucky to get my luggage back at all? I see my decision never to check my luggage again was a good one!

I’d blame American for the loss of my bag if someone stole it from the carousel. Of course, I’d blame the guy who stole it as well, but he isn’t exactly around anymore.

The airlines no doubt chose the horribly insecure carousel system because it is way more cost effective than any secure system where you needed to show ID or a tag to receive your bag. That is fine, but then they should take responsibility if items are taken from it.

In other words, I consider the bag to be in possession, and the responsibility of, the airline until such time as I reach out and grab it from the carousel. I can’t say that is how the law works, but it is how I feel about it as an ethical issue. Hopefully, I’ll never have to test this in practice!

I have not had much bad luck. Once my bag was delayed by two hours (made the flight after mine), and once it missed a connection and was delivered to my hotel the next day. And that’s out of many dozens of flights in which I’ve checked bags.

My parents did have one very bad experience. They were flying Air France from the U.S. to Florence, connecting in Paris. As it happened, the baggage handlers at Charles-de-Gaulle airport went on strike while their transatlantic plane was in the air. So when it arrived, they just dumped all the bags out and didn’t even try to transfer them. They didn’t get their bags back for weeks! Certainly they didn’t have them for the entire time they were in Europe.


It sounds like bags almost never go missing… but when they do, it’s so monumentally bad that it scars you for life.

I think I’m getting advice to be extra-super cautious because I’m going on a cruise. If the bag gets lost, it’s going to be difficult getting it to me.

Keep the horrible stories coming!

I am only a semi-air warrior but I think I won the reverse lottery on this one. I have had my bags lost permanently 7 times and delayed by days too many times to count. I have no explanation for it other than the fact that my family often books complex itineraries and we often run (literally) to connections or request special re-routing because of weather or other travel conditions. Once you do that, you will get to your destination but someone in your party likely will not get their luggage. The airlines don’t seem to be able to handle unusual situations very well to say the least.

I know the reimbursement forms like the back of my hand. Don’t say that you had a $300 IPOD and a Blackberry in your luggage even if it is true because they will give you zip for that. Armani suits valued at $3000 a piece are the only hope at partial compensation. The airlines mainly compensate just for clothes.

We lost Christmas presents 3 years in a row either coming or going to see my family in Louisiana. When we go to the Virgin Islands, the chances are about 50/50 that someone will not have their luggage when they either arrive or get back home.

I once had a small green Eddie Bauer duffle bag that was apparently very popular. I watched it come off the line at Boston Logan when a nice young lady just walked up, grabbed it, and got into a waiting car before I could say anything even though I wanted to question her. I got “mine” and yes it was really hers. I returned it to the desk right away but it took about five days to get mine back by courier. My wife had her luggage stolen in a connection from San Juan, PR and that isn’t included in my count.

That stuff gets old. If you count permanently lost and misrouted, delayed bags (by many hours or days), I have probably had about 30 - 40 of them total and I am only 35 years old.

TheMerchandise, here is a thread from a few months back that will have some more responses for you.

If you’re really paranoid, send your bags ahead by Fedex. I’ve heard that some people do this as a way to fly lightly. It’s expensive, though.

In that particular instance, I’d say so. Whether or not you got it back was entirely at the discretion of the guy who accidently took it. Given my experience with Society In General, I’d say the gods were smiling on you.

And you’d be within your right to do so, and American would probably suck it up as a loss. The incidence of this type of thing happening, though, is apparently so low that it’s not worth fighting. The airline can’t prove that the loss occured after they delivered it to the carousel; you can’t prove that it didn’t.

The airlines keep choosing the horribly insecure carousel system because such a method of conveyance is mandated by the authority who owns the airport and installs it. But, yeah, you’re right–it’s about cost. When a system works 99% of the time, it’s hard to justify the added cost of staff and ID checking to fix the other 1%. Especially right now.

And they generally do take responsibility when items are taken from it. The downside, as I understand it (I don’t work in baggage recovery, but have friends that do), is that there’s about an equal amount of customer fraud going on. So, the airlines pay when they lose your bag, when someone else steals it, and when the dishonest customer files a report. It’s not the best of situations, but hey, it works out nearly 100% of the time.

It didn’t get lost, it’s just I didn’t end up in the same place as it did. I rarely fly, and coming back from DFW on a business trip we got diverted due to “weather” and landed an hour late. Knowing that certain airplanes had got in late, and that many connecting flights were blown, you can easily schedule extra people on service desks to handle the ensuing problems. United don’t do this however, and I had to wait hours in line to get sent to a discount motel sans luggage with a coupon any shmoe could have grabbed from near the pay-phone bank. (Then spent the next day waiting standby for 3 overbooked flights while I missed Thanksgiving. Bastards).

This would be the reason why your family is telling you to pack a change of clothes, your toothbrush and your jacket in your carry-on. Yeah Texas is hot. Yeah you can get it out at the carousel when you get home. What about Denver, huh? How warm is that? :mad:

I can’t say how to avoid losing luggage, except to say that if it does happen to me, I expect to be given the least amount of attention and help possible by the airlines, so I’d better be able to live a few days w/o it.