Ask A Question

E-Mail Me! airtransparency at gmail dot com

« Airplane Geeks Podcast - UPDATED! | Main | Steven Slater and the JetBlue Debacle »

Lost Baggage

Everyone dreads it, and it has even changed the way people pack, but why are so many bags lost?  Off we go!:

Courtesy: New York Magazine

To get the easiest part out of the way, let's start with the automated baggage system.  This is the first part your bag sees.  Once your bag is tagged by an airline agent, it is then dropped on a conveyor belt which sucks it into the bowels of the airport to send it to the appropriate gate.  In this area is a gigantic network of scanners and conveyor belts that guide the bags according to the bar code that is attached to the bag.  Bags are almost never lost at this point.  The automated system is very precise and a mis-scan is almost impossible.  However, if there is a erroneous scan, the fail safe is directing that bag to a human where it is then correctly identified and sent on its way.  Same goes for bags that may fall off the automated system: the baggage transfer area is constantly monitored by airport employees for any anomalies.


Where bags get lost many times is during aircraft departure changes and transfer changes.  One of the most common instances is when a flight arrives into a destination late, all the connecting passengers who have checked bags risk a chance of that bag not arriving at their connecting flight in time.  

Another is when there is an aircraft gate change.  Luggage begins to arrive at a departure gate before the aircraft it is supposed to fly on has arrived in many cases.  But when that aircraft does arrive, it has a gate change.  This means that all the checked bags that are sitting on the ramp at the original gate need to be transfered to the new gate.  While the vast majority of the bags make it, often times there are a few bags still enroute to the original gate that have a small possibility of getting lost.

The last, and often most frustrating instance, are late check-ins (especially for international flights).  Airlines have a set of rules that state what the minimum check-in time (i.e. the latest time you can check in for a flight) is for a flight that will allow both the passenger and their baggage to make the reserved flight.  When passengers check in either at, or after this time, the airline no longer guarantees that they will be able to make their original flight.  We do not fudge these numbers, or add time to our favor, it is simply just an average time that it takes for a passenger and their checked luggage to go from the check-in counter to the actual departure gate.  At some airports this time is much longer, and on international flights this time is much longer due to the extra paperwork and immigration preparations required to begin your journey.  At some (smaller) airports, this time is very short.

A mid-sized airline sees about 60,000-90,000 passengers a day.  If 50% of them check bags then that is about 30,000-45,000 bags handled by the airline on a day by day basis.  The industry average of lost bags hovers around 1%-2% of bags handled are lost temporarily.  That means around 1,000 passengers a day, on a medium sized airline, have baggage issues.  A high number yes, but a low percentage of bags actually lost.


Courtesy: Travel And Leisure

So onto some helpful tips when checking baggage:


  1. Tag your own luggage.  Make sure there is a sturdy tag hanging from your bag that lists your name and a way to contact you.
  2. Put a copy of your itinerary in an outside pocket or on top of your clothes.  If your bag is misplaced an agent can quickly pull your PNR record locator and try to get your bag to you as soon as possible.
  3. Make sure the gate agent issues the correct destination code.  JFK and LGA are close, but not close enough to track down a lost bag.  Also, STT (St. Thomas, USVI) and STR (Stuttgart, Germany) are two very different, very far apart airports.
  4. Don't check. That pretty much solves all of your problems.


PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

References (1)

References allow you to track sources for this article, as well as articles that were written in response to this article.
  • Response
    AirTransparency - Offering an Inside View of Airline Operations - Lost Baggage

Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>