The Airlines Most Likely To Lose, Misdirect Or Damage Your Luggage (& What To Do If It Happens)

by SharonKurheg

It’s happened to everyone at some point. You arrive in Austin on American Airlines, while your checked luggage arrives in Boise (that really did happen to us, several years ago. They got the bag to us about 12 hours later). Or you arrive at JFK on United and your 4-wheeled bag now has 3 wheels…or a rip…or a dent (that happened to me too, 20+  years ago). Or you arrive in San Francisco on SouthWest and your bag just…disappears. Forever (Well, eventually they’ll find it, but if they can’t figure out who it belongs to, like if your luggage tag broke off and there’s no airline sticker on the bag, it’ll eventually wind up at this place. You don’t want it to go there.).

As it turns out, there’s a group paying attention to, not only how often peoples’ bags are lost, misdirected or damaged, but also which airlines do the most and least amounts of losing, misdirecting and damaging. Of course, trying to figure out the U.S. Department of Transportations’ (USDT) info is like searching for a needle in a haystack, but luckily another group has done the hard work for us. posts that based on analysis of the USDT’s figures, more than a half a million pieces of baggage are expected to be mishandled in some way during the country’s most busy travel time of the year, with December and January leading the way.

Using the USDT’s figures since 2012, they also have reported Delta to be the best airline in terms of mishandling the least amount of suitcases (about 1.5 bags per 1000 bags) and Envoy Air to be the worst, with over 5 bags per 1,000. Here are the rankings:

It’s not lost on me that Spirit Airlines ranked as the second best airline in terms of messing with your luggage; I’m still not going to fly on them 😉 And did you see that JetBlue is #3? They’re one of our favorites!

On the whole, those statistics aren’t all that awesome but they could be worse. In fact, they have been! says that, overall, complaints about mishandled luggage have dropped 27% since 2012. And some airlines (United is one of them) have improved by more than 50 percent. In fact, in September 2017 (the latest statistics they mention), U.S. airlines chalked up the lowest monthly rate of mishandled baggage reports — 1.99 per 1,000 passengers — in 30 years.

I wonder if fewer complaints are in correlation with people not checking luggage as often in an attempt to save on check baggage fees, but I can’t find any studies about that. Would be interesting to see, though.

What to do if your bag is mishandled

Thanks to for the following list – it really is perfect!

  • If your bag doesn’t arrive, or is damaged or tampered with, report it to the airline immediately, preferably while you’re at the airport. Otherwise, call them as soon as possible. Document as much as you can with photos, and save any communication you can. (Note from Sharon – most major airlines have an office or at least a kiosk right by baggage claim)
  • Make sure that a proper report is filed and that you get a copy of it.
  • If you’re flying within the United States, DOT rules state that your baggage is covered up to $3,500 per passenger and $1,536 internationally. To collect, you need to fill out the necessary forms and have proof of loss.
  • If your bag is damaged, request repair or replacement. (Note from Sharon: When my bag was badly damaged, way back in the mid-90s, they had a bunch of name brand replacement bags right there at the office and I was able to pick one and swap it for my bag that they broke)
  • If your bag is lost and you need to replace essential items, the airline should reimburse you for those costs.
  • If you paid a fee to check the bag, ask for a refund of the fee.
  • If you used a travel agent, ask the agent to assist.
  • If you paid by credit card and if you have travel insurance, ask if those agreements cover baggage loss or damage.

Having your luggage lost, delayed or broken is definitely a bummer but I’m glad it’s happening less than it used to. Hopefully you’ll never be one of those 2 or 3 per 1,000 people whose bags are mishandled, but if you are, at least you now know what to do. Good luck!

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary


Dan Rohman September 2, 2019 - 12:10 pm

Delta ruined my brand new skis and refused to pay for them. Broke handles and wheels off cases. Refused to pay.. Will never fly them again. On the other hand, SouthWest, was the best. Never an issue.

K Alspaw September 2, 2019 - 11:11 pm

You may want to make luggage noticeable by having unique color or neon tape also last thing to put in luggage is note with contact information and contact phone number. The airline open bags to list contents to distinguish one bag from another and if the can contact you it is easy to solve claim

SharonKurheg September 3, 2019 - 9:41 am Reply
Kim PDX September 4, 2019 - 9:33 am

On a short flight from San Jose to Portland, TSA opened my case of wine to check it, broke a bottle, then just put in their flier and resealed it. When it arrived on the carousel with many other in-tact boxes of wine, mine was sopping wet and drooping from the bottle of red wine they broke (in the center of the bottle, so I suspect they hit it too hard with their metal poker thingy). I filed a claim with TSA and it was a complete nightmare. They tried to blame the airline, but I explained to them that the airline didn’t open the box and that their tape closed the box. I think they broke it and just handed the box over to the airline soaking suitcases all around my box. I fought with the TSA claims people for a full year. They finally reimbursed me. Guess how much…$68! They fought with me for a YEAR for $68! Maddening, irresponsible, and incredibly wasteful! TSA needs a new claims administrator.

Reply September 4, 2019 - 10:06 am

Pay attention to the tag put on your bag(s) as they are checked. Going from DCA (National in DC) to a wedding in Boston (BOS), a check in employee reached over one tag bin too far and put BAS on my bag. It went to Buenos Aires! I was home by the time the bag was found and rerouted, and looked a bit shabby at the wedding, but at least they brought the bag to my residence door.

Alf September 4, 2019 - 10:27 am

I find the statistics actually surprisingly low considering how many bags now get gate checked and not going through the standard checked luggage process. This adds to the possibility that the luggage could be tagged to the wrong destination or the bag could get left on the jetway by accident if the ramp agent doesn’t check for the really last minute bags (the ones that people bring on the plane insisting they’ll get space in an overhead only to find it completely full and then the flight attendant has to get it to a gate agent who then needs to tag it properly). Plus the ramp agent has to drag the luggage down those metal stairs from the jetway or just toss it over the side to another ramp agent below. A disaster waiting to happen!

I’ve had luggage damaged but the luggage manufacturer replace every piece for free with the latest model (thank you samsonite)! Score one for the luggage manufacturer!

DT September 4, 2019 - 10:39 am

As a tangent, with respect to damaged/lost bags when rechecking bags from international flights, the worst airport is JFK. On several occasions, we’ve cleared customers and recheck our perfectly fine bags with plenty of time, only to get them late and/or smashed.

Ray Sharradh September 4, 2019 - 12:57 pm

I once booked IAD-ORD-YYC on a mileage ticket with United. My ORD stop was a THREE HOUR layover, and UA still managed not to load not only my bag, but well over half of my fellow CRJ-700 passengers. My bag sat in ORD for a couple of days. It somehow ended up in YVR for a few more days before Air Canada flew it into YYC. I got my bag just in the nick of time to return to IAD. United could not have possibly cared less that my trip to YYC was completely ruined. Ever since then, I will jam pack a carry-on bag to the point of injuring myself whilst lugging it to avoid a duplicate performance. And ever since, I despise United Airlines.

anyasr September 5, 2019 - 2:36 am

You can’t believe that Spirit Air stat… they charge you to breathe, so why TF would people check luggage unless absolutely necessary?


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