Airlines most likely to lose or damage your luggage
(Stacker) — Nothing can ruin a vacation faster than getting to your destination, ready to relax and unwind, only to realize none of your stuff made it with you.
By now, the most experienced travelers have mastered the age-old trick of carrying the necessities, including a change of clothes or two, in their carry-ons, just in case they find themselves in this trip-ruining predicament. But there’s another way to avoid dealing with the lost baggage headache—knowing which airlines are most likely to mishandle your luggage and understanding their lost and damaged baggage policies just in case.
To that end, Stacker ranked airlines by which are the most likely to lose, damage, or delay your baggage, based on data from the 2021 Air Travel Consumer Report. For each operating carrier (the organization that physically handles the flight, not necessarily the organization who sold you the flight, or the marketing carrier), we’ve included data points covering the number of mishandled baggage totals per 1,000 items from October 2021, along with total bags handled. All of the numbers related to mishandled bags in this article were self-reported by travelers. Check out our guide before your next big trip, and book those tickets (or pack those carry-ons) accordingly.
#10. Skywest Airlines
– Number of mishandled bags per thousand: 4.51
– 11,191 bags lost or damaged out of 2,481,721 total bags handled
SkyWest Airlines is a small regional carrier that operates flights on behalf of larger airlines like Alaska, United, Delta, and American. Its planes currently travel to 250 cities in the United States, Canada, and Mexico, carrying customers through smaller cities like Boise, Idaho, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, connecting them to major air travel hubs like Chicago and Dallas-Fort Worth. Because the airline operates in the place of these larger companies, they don’t have their own unique baggage policy, deferring instead to its partners’ policies. That being said, SkyWest does promise to reimburse passengers “for reasonable toiletry items and essentials for the time they are without their belongings” in the case of lost or delayed baggage.
#9. Southwest Airlines
– Number of mishandled bags per thousand: 4.62
– 41,245 bags lost or damaged out of 8,917,967 total bags handled
For more than 50 years, Southwest Airlines has been committed to offering low-cost, low-hassle flights to customers across 121 airports and 11 countries. According to the company’s website, they offer more nonstop flights within the United States than any other airline—a fact that most certainly helps to keep their number of mishandled bags so low. In the event of a lost or delayed bag, Southwest will deliver the luggage to any location the customer desires, meaning you won’t have to take time out of your vacation to go in search of your stuff. If a bag remains lost for more than five days, travelers can file a claim with baggage services to be refunded for the value of the items.
#8. PSA Airlines
– Number of mishandled bags per thousand: 4.78
– 5,403 bags lost or damaged out of 1,130,847 total bags handled
A tiny regional airline that primarily serves cities in the eastern United States, PSA airlines operates an average of 800 flights a day. The company is a wholly-owned subsidiary of American Airlines, which means its lost and damaged baggage policies are identical to that of its parent company. After losing a bag, travelers must file a complaint with the airline, which will begin efforts to track down the luggage. If the bags haven’t been found in five days, customers can request to have the cost of the luggage, and everything in it, covered by PSA. In the meantime, the company will cover the cost of necessities as long as itemized receipts can be provided.
#7. Endeavor Air
– Number of mishandled bags per thousand: 4.82
– 4,860 bags lost or damaged out of 1,007,850 total bags handled
Like PSA Airlines, Endeavor Air is a wholly-owned subsidiary of a major airline. With over 193 jets in its arsenal, the company handles connecting flights between 140 cities, many of which are in the Midwest. Endeavor’s lost baggage policies are also in line with its parent company (in this case, Delta Air Lines), meaning customers must report lost luggage within 24 hours. The airline will search for the items for 14 days, and if it isn’t found within that span of time, you are eligible for reimbursement.
#6. Republic Airways
– Number of mishandled bags per thousand: 5.40
– 4,726 bags lost or damaged out of 874,948 total bags handled
Republic Airways conducts flights out of 11 bases for larger carriers like American Eagle, Delta Connection, and United Express. The regional airline is an affordable option for those looking to go to very specific places (the airline only travels to 100 cities in 40 states). Because the company operates on behalf of its more-mainstream partners, they don’t have any of its own lost and damaged baggage policies, relying instead on the systems and rules put in place by the bigger brands. They do, however, have specific rules about luggage size—they will not carry anything over 96 inches—due to the smaller size of the aircraft they operate.
#5. Mesa Airlines
– Number of mishandled bags per thousand: 5.93
– 3,676 bags lost or damaged out of 619,525 total bags handled
In 1982, Mesa Airlines began as a single-plane shuttle that made daily round-trips between Farmington and Albuquerque, New Mexico. These days the regional airline carries passengers between 200 destinations in the United States, offering flights on behalf of United and American Airlines. Mesa’s website offers very little information about their lost and damaged baggage policies, which likely means that, as is the case with many other regional carriers, they defer to their partners’ policies. Customers who are dealing with missing luggage would do best to contact either United or American for help with locating missing items.
#4. Delta Air Lines
– Number of mishandled bags per thousand: 5.95
– 33,967 bags lost or damaged out of 5,705,942 total bags handled
Founded in 1925, Delta Air Lines carries 200 million travelers each year to 300 destinations around the world. Given that sheer volume, it’s no wonder that the company lands so high on our list of airlines most likely to lose your luggage. Delta’s policy states that travelers must report lost bags within 24 hours, or seven days for international travel. All refunds for delayed or lost bags will be issued in the form of electronic vouchers (which must be applied for online), which are good for future travel with the company.
#3. Alaska Airlines
– Number of mishandled bags per thousand: 6.07
– 8,682 bags lost or damaged out of 1,430,197 total bags handled
Alaska Airlines is aptly named for the state where it began offering local flights some 85 years ago. As of 2022, the airline now offers service to all 50 states, as well as several other countries, carrying some 44 million customers annually. If you check a bag with Alaska and reach any one of these more than 100 destinations only to find that your luggage has been damaged or lost, you must report it in person, immediately. The airline’s website says most luggage is located within 48 hours, but the airline will continue to look for bags for up to six weeks. After five days, customers can file for reimbursement.
#2. Envoy Air
– Number of mishandled bags per thousand: 7.71
– 6,401 bags lost or damaged out of 829,856 total bags handled
A wholly owned subsidiary of American Airlines, Envoy Air offers cheap flights to 150 regional destinations. With over 1,000 daily flights, there are plenty of opportunities for your luggage to get lost and it often does. If your bags are missing following an Envoy flight, you’ll be asked to follow the standard American Airlines procedures—file a claim online, submit an electronic reimbursement form, and wait for a minimum of five days before following up. Damaged baggage must be reported immediately if you want to seek financial compensation.
#1. American Airlines
– Number of mishandled bags per thousand: 7.94
– 43,035 bags lost or damaged out of 5,417,841 total bags handled
The worst airline for losing and damaging luggage? American Airlines. Founded in 1926, American began as a mail carrier, switching to passenger flights in 1934. Over the course of the next 100 years, it would go on to become the largest airline in the world, operating 14,250 flights a day to 1,000 destinations. Given the sheer size of the company, its lost and damaged baggage policy is incredibly streamlined and can be done almost entirely online, meaning customers never have to wait on long phone holds to speak with an agent. Additionally, American will deliver found luggage to the address of your choice (home or hotel), meaning the additional aggravation of having to return to the airport to retrieve lost items can be avoided entirely.
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