How Often Does Luggage Get Lost? (And is There Anything You Can Do about It?)

It’s a nagging fear every traveller has when they check their luggage at the airport: Will my bags arrive at my destination with me? It’s a fear that forces many travellers to avoid checking their bags altogether by stuffing as much as possible in their carry-on. Other travellers, meanwhile, risk it but wisely protect their belongings with travel insurance that may include coverage for baggage loss or delay.

How often do airlines lose baggage?

SITA, a technology provider to many of the world’s airports and airlines, each year releases a report that highlights how many bags, globally, are moved each year and how many are mishandled (the industry term for lost, damaged, or delayed luggage). The current SITA report found:

  • In 2018, 4.36 billion travellers checked in more than 4.27 billion bags.
  • Of those 4.27 billion bags, 24.8 million were mishandled.
  • The industry’s mishandling rate is 5.69 bags per 1,000 passengers. For North America, it’s 2.85 bags per 1,000 passengers which is way better than Europe where it’s 7.29.

Luggage delays account for the highest proportion of mishandled bags at 77 percent. The rest are lost or stolen (5 percent) or damaged (18 percent).

The Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA), however, fields complaints from travellers on a variety of issues, including complaints about lost, damaged, or delayed luggage. While many travellers deal with the airline directly, complaints to the CTA have been increasing. For the year 2017/2018 there were 1,517 baggage complaints, 2016/2017 there were 968, and for 2015/2016 there were 276.

What can I do to prevent lost or delayed luggage?

No one wants to lose their luggage, but you can take a few steps to minimize your inconvenience.

First, try to book direct flights where possible. According to SITA, 46 percent of delayed luggage is due to what they call “transfer mishandling”: Moving luggage from one aircraft to another or from one airline to another.

If you do require a connecting flight, look for connections within the same airline and give yourself a healthy stopover to improve the odds that your luggage will make the next leg of your journey.

Next, before you close your suitcase for good, create a list of the items you’ve packed. That way you’re ready if your fears about your luggage become reality. And remember, don't pack valuables or essential medication in checked luggage. Pack these items in your carry-on with a change of clothes and essential toiletries.

You should also make use of the airline’s identification tags when you’re dropping your bag off. Leave a label with your contact information (including phone number) on the inside too. Some travellers also put a copy of their itinerary inside their bag to make it easier for them to be located. Finally, make sure your luggage is properly tagged with your destination at check-in.

What should I do if my bags are lost or delayed?

Under Canada's Air Passenger Protection Regulations that came into effect in July 2019, airlines are required to offer you financial compensation for your inconvenience.

First, the airline must refund your baggage fee. Additionally, if your bag is lost, delayed, or damaged you can file a claim for your expenses up to approximately $2,100. To receive compensation from the airline for your expenses, you must complain to the airline in writing:

  • Within 7 days if your luggage is damaged
  • Within 21 days of the loss or delay

If you haven't received your bags within 21 days, it is officially determined to be "lost" for the purposes of compensation. And if your claim is denied, you have a two-year deadline to take legal action to receive compensation.

How can travel insurance help with lost baggage?

Travel insurance can offer help with permanently lost bags and delayed luggage. Each policy provides different benefits which can help to reduce your inconvenience. Although you're entitled to compensation from the airline if your bags are lost or delayed, the reimbursement may take weeks or months so having your own protection is also a smart option. Read your travel insurance policy carefully to determine if its baggage compensation policies fit your needs.

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