Best & Worst Airlines for Lost Luggage 2009
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Worried about your luggage being mishandled or going MIA during plane travel? Choosing the right carrier can cut the risks.
Though it happened a few years back, Kathy Dragon remembers her worst baggage-handling nightmare
like it was yesterday. The owner of a cultural walking tour company, Dragon’s Path, Dragon
had flown from Miami to Paris to meet a group that she’d
arranged to lead on an eight-day trek through Provence.
Her luggage, however, didn’t make the rendezvous. Consequently, Dragon had to mobilize her
tour without maps, a first-aid kit, or any clothes but the ones she’d shown up in. Over the
next week, in between increasingly frustrated calls to her airline and its affiliated delivery
company, she led her group on all-day walks wearing a pair of borrowed men’s hiking boots
that were several sizes too big.
“Of course,” Dragon remembers, “my bags finally showed up on the last
day—just in time to bring them on the flight home.”
For those of us who fly frequently, Dragon’s story may be all too familiar. Luggage that
gets lost, delayed, damaged, or even pillaged has started to seem like just another side effect of
today’s airline industry ills. But it doesn’t have to be—because in fact, some
carriers rate much better than others when it comes to baggage handling.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s October 2009 Air Travel Consumer Report (which tracked baggage complaints for domestic airlines between August 2008 and August
2009), the overall number of travelers reporting mishandled luggage dropped significantly this
year. Of the roughly 51 million air travelers who flew during the reporting period, close to
208,000 filed baggage complaints (relating to lost, damaged, or delayed baggage, charges for excess
baggage, carry-on problems, and difficulties with airline claims procedures) with their
carriers—a big number, but way down from last year’s total of almost 270,000.
Part of the improvement may have to do with airlines stepping up their game. Of the 19 domestic
carriers ranked in the DOT’s report, several have recently undertaken new
initiatives—like new computerized tags and tracking systems—to help protect baggage
from getting misplaced, and for reuniting it more quickly with its owners when it does.
“Other airlines have simply been taking their customer-care responsibilities more
seriously in an effort to stave off bankruptcy,” says Steve Snyder, spokesperson for Frontier
Airlines (ranked # 3 on our “Best” list). “We all knew we had to run an extremely
efficient airline in order to retain loyal passengers.”
More likely, though, the drop in baggage complaints is directly related to the current economy,
in which fewer travelers are flying (total passenger numbers are down more than 2.5 million from
2008). Of those who do, many more are choosing to carry on their luggage, thus avoiding the fees
that carriers now require for checking bags.
Regardless of these overall trends, though, the differences among airlines when it comes to
baggage handling can be dramatic. So choose a carrier with our lists in mind—unless you
don’t mind walking miles in someone else’s shoes.
Read on for the list of the 10 best—and 10 worst—airlines for baggage handling.