More Airlines Are Mishandling Baggage, and It's Going to Get Worse

Our luggage has been going through it during our travels.

My checked luggage is an Away suitcase that could probably survive a hurricane or an apocalypse. It is durable in a way only I could dream of being and yet still, when I send that cutie down the conveyor belt into the jaws of the cargo hold of my flight I can't help but worry. How will it be handled? Will it be ruthlessly chucked against the walls of the airplane, ricocheting off of the tank-like Rimowa bags? Will I ever see that sky blue, lovingly scuffed well traveled suitcase again?

Statistically, I will see it again. Mail gets lost way more frequently than luggage (though I guess that's a pretty grim comparison), so it's a better way to get my things from one place to another. Still, the amount of mishandled baggage is, unfortunately, trending upward.

This is according to new data from air transport IT provider SITA showing that the likelihood of baggage being mishandled during air travel increasing 74.7% from 2021 to 2022. SITA's just-released 2023 Baggage IT Insights report shows that the number of bags mishandled globally in 2022 was 7.6 bags per thousand passengers. (The Bureau of Transportation Statistics shows that for U.S. domestic flights, the number of mishandled bags per 1,000 passengers was lower, at 3.74 bags.)

So what exactly does "mishandled" mean? It includes bags that suffer a range of fates. According to the report, only 7% of mishandled bags were lost or stolen last year, while delayed bags accounted for 80% of mishandled baggage, and the percentage of damaged or pilfered bags decreased to 13% of the total.

The post-pandemic air travel boom, particularly when it comes to international flights, is largely to blame.

"This can be traced back in large part to the resumption of international and long-haul flights throughout 2022, meaning more transfers, where bags are most susceptible to being mishandled," the SITA report states. "To better express the scale of the challenge, mishandling rates for international flights—where bags are more likely to be transferred from one flight to another—are eight times higher than for domestic flights."

The handling of luggage is not likely to improve in 2023, as summer travel demand continues to surge. The continued challenges of a shortage of skilled staff, resumption of international travel, and congestion at airports will continue to be an issue into the end of 2023, at least. Most travel experts believe that travel won’t resume to "normal" until 2024.

"After a decade where the mishandling rate more than halved between 2007 and 2021, it is disheartening to see this rate climbing again," David Lavorel, CEO of SITA, said in a statement.

While the airline industry still scrambles to recover (my suggestion: hire more people and pay them well), there are ways to mitigate the likelihood of losing luggage or having it mishandled. Just remember: the most lawless area of the airport is baggage claim, so plan accordingly.

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Opheli Garcia Lawler is a Staff Writer on the News team at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @opheligarcia and Instagram @opheligarcia.