The Checkout

What Really Happened to Your Luggage

So now we know what we suspected back in August is true:

The volume of "mishandled baggage"--delayed, damaged, lost, or stolen bags--spiked 25 percent after the liquid ban took effect August 10.

Transportation Security Administration officials banned passengers from carrying liquids and gels onto flights after British authorities uncovered a plot to explode planes flying from the U.K. to the U.S. using liquid explosives.
TSA has since allowed travel-sized liquid and gel items tucked "comfortably" into a one-quart clear plastic bag.

Back in the bad old days of August, however, banned items, such as shampoo, perfume, and toothpaste had to either go in the trash or in checked luggage. Not surprisingly, the Department of Transportation data show the amount of checked luggage rose 20 percent in the wake of the ban as compared with July.

As I've mentioned in this space before, during the initial frenzy of the liquid ban, several airlines downplayed any operational snafus, including an uptick in lost or damaged luggage. It turns out, though, that some of them, including Delta and United, could have used some help with their bags.

As The Post's Del Quentin Wilber reported yesterday, Delta's rate of mishandled baggage reports jumped by 36 percent and United's rose by almost 35 percent.

If you're curious about how other airlines fared, here's a sampling based on the DOT data. I compared the August statistics for number of reports per 1,000 customers to July's.

Reports of mishandled bags rose:

50 percent at JetBlue Airways
32 percent at ATA Airlines
27 percent at Southwest Airlines
22 percent at Northwest Airlines
19 percent at American Airlines
18 percent at AirTran Airways
10 percent at Frontier Airlines
3 percent at Continental Airlines

The volume of checked luggage has begun to subside, which, we hope, will reduce the number of mishandled bags.

In August, my colleagues had also asked about what DOT likes to call "pilferage" from bags. But that isn't broken out of the mishandled baggage data, so we don't know whether that also increased.

After our last entry on the TSA restrictions, Brooke King wrote in to say that a cellphone charger went missing after she traveled Labor Day week. TSA seemed to have searched her bag but didn't leave the usual note saying they had been there. When she called the airline, she was told the company was responsible only for clothing and toiletries in checked baggage. She was not compensated for the charger.

If you find yourself in Brooke's shoes, and are motivated enough to seek redress and compensation, you have to file a claim with both TSA and the airline, according to information prepared by the House Transportation Committee Aviation Subcommittee for a hearing in May.

To reach consumer contacts at the airlines, go to
To file a claim with TSA, go to

According to the House Aviation Subcommittee backgrounder for the hearing, TSA pays some amount of compensation on approximately 47 percent of claims received. In fiscal year 2005, TSA paid $2.3 million to settle claims.

Have you ever tried getting reimbursed for your "mishandled" luggage, either from an airline or TSA? How did it go?

By Annys Shin |  October 6, 2006; 7:00 AM ET Consumer News
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Never had a problem with claims on mishandled baggage domestically. a year and a half ago Delta didn't get my bag between connecting flights in Atlanta during a four-hour stop going from Dulles to Palm Springs. For 24 hours they couldn't find the bag, possibly because my calls were being answered in India. Then, weather problems kept the bag grounded in Salt Lake City until very late the night before my return home. I wound up picking up the bag when I flew out of PSP, along with a $200 travel voucher which they later tried to charge me a fee for using since it could not be ticketed online.

Ordinarily, Palm springs would be a great place to have no clothes, but not when it's rainy and cool. Still, my host had fun dressing me in distinctive clothing that his associates would recognize.

Posted by: bigolpoofter | October 6, 2006 8:18 AM

About 10 years ago, I flew Continental from DCA to Houston to Mobile, AL. Because of a delay leaving DCA, I missed my next segment in Houston and since Gulfport, MS was a reasonable distance away from my final destination, Continental booked me there. I arrived in Gulfport with no luggage. I was then guided to knock on a locked door that led back to the luggage folks. I knocked repeatedly to no answer all the while hearing banging noises coming from the inside. I flagged down an officer walking by and asked for his assistance as there was no one else available to answer questions about my luggage. He banged just as I had, but I'm guessing our conversation was overheard inside. The door was opened by a female employee while another female held a screwdriver and a hammer next to my luggage. Both women were in Continental shirts. Although my luggage had a combo lock and I had locked the two handles, they were trying to open it or to give them the benefit of a doubt, damage it. There were several imprints of the screwdriver head on my locks, but they refused to budge for them. Instead of pursuing the obvious, the officer left thinking my problem was solved and I filed a complaint with the airline. Continental was gracious enough to have my luggage repaired but I imagine these women still have their jobs.

Posted by: MtnDew | October 6, 2006 9:33 AM

Geez, who steals a cellphone charger? That's just lame.

Posted by: h3 | October 6, 2006 10:30 AM

Here's a story from the bad old days. I hadn't checked bags in years prior to the liquids prohibition situation. Yes, I'm that person who insists on bring a huge, bulky pulling suitcase as a carry-on. But for good reason - my baggage has on numerous times missed a connection and become the source of great inconvenience for me. About a week after the liquids prohibition was instituted, I flew on United Airlines from DC to Seattle and was forced by the new regulations to check my bag. I was nervous about checking the bag because I was scheduled to leave of a 3 day camping trip the day after I arrived in Seattle, and I obviously needed my clothes/supplies in order to go on the trip. Unfortunately, my flight included a stop over in San Francisco. I experienced a two hour delay in SF, but my bag - low and behold - nevertheless missed it's connection. I discovered this fact when I arrived in the Seattle airport at midnight (I was supposed to have arrived at 10 pm). The baggage representatives at the airport did not even bother to apologize, and informed me that my bag "may" and "would hopefully" be on the first flight from SF to Seattle the next morning. I called United at around 6 am the next day to see if my bag had made it on to the first flight out. I was told that United did not have that information, could not tell me which flight my bag would be on, and couldn't even assure me that my bag would arrive in Seattle that day. I was extremely distressed, as the camping trip - and all of the trip's participants - were being being held up pending my bag's arrival. I called United about 5 times over the next hour, each time receiving the same information: ie, no information. Finally, I reached the only helpful customer service representative that United seems to employ. This woman called the SF airport, spoke to the baggage department there, located my bag, and ensured that it would be on the next flight out. I was told that my bag's airline tag had fallen off. No one, of course, bothered to call the cell phone number listed on the person information tag which was still on my bag. Had I not reached this one, wonderful customer service representative, I may never have retrieved the bag. The bag did end up arriving at around 2 pm that day.
But it gets better. I called later that day to ask United to compensate me with a voucher for my troubles. After hearing my story, I was informed that I would receive a $150 voucher. Fine. Great. Flash forward a week later. The voucher arrives, only to have my name misspelled. I call United to discuss the problem, and they say that I need to mail them back the misspelled voucher and that they would mail me a corrected one. All of this has to be by snail mail. The only logic I see in that is trying to discourage people from obtaining and using vouchers because of the administrative problems associated with actually receiving them! In the meantime, I wanted to book another United flight. I know, silly me. But airline tickets are so expensive for the Thanksgiving weekend that the only way I could afford one was to use my voucher! I was told that I could put a reservation on hold, but that the ticketing people (who are totally separated and have no communiaction with the customer service people) could not discount my ticket in the amount of the voucher until the ticketing people physically received the voucher. That's right. I had to wait for the customer service people to snail mail me the voucher, only for me to turn around and snail mail it to the reservations people. Very efficient. I *finally* received the corrected voucher two weeks ago and mailed it along. No word yet from reservations. Mind you, the original flight was labor day weekend, and it is now October. This whole situation is utterly absurd on so many levels.

Posted by: Julia | October 6, 2006 10:53 AM

I asked for compensation when someone stole a clock my wife and I were given as a wedding gift... Not only was I told that "nobody took anything from your bag" I was told they didn't compensate people anyway. People this rude should not be employed at all, much less work where they'd come in contact with other human beings! Stupid theifs and the crooked companies they work for! ARGH!

Posted by: Chris | October 6, 2006 11:00 AM


Which airline was it?

Posted by: Steve | October 6, 2006 11:03 AM

Some years ago, while flying from Washington National to Harlingen, TX my bag didn't arrive. It never did. I filed a claim with Continental, who eventually paid up to the legal limit. However, they first sent me a questionaire which strongly implied that I was stealing and lying. When I complained to Continental they indicated that they always try that approach first to see if they can avoid compensation.

Posted by: Joel | October 6, 2006 11:43 AM

The statistics cited are questionable in my opinion. The fact that JetBlue had a 50% increase in mishandled bags places it at the top and makes one think "Wow they suck!" But 50% of what? For argument's sake, if before they had 2 bags lost per 1000 people and that has risen by 50%, that means they lost 3 bags per 1000 people in August. Um...that's hardly an alarming number.

Compare that to Continental's 3% increase. One might opt to take them thinking they're the best of the worst. But if they were losing 30 bags to begin with, an increase of 3% is about one more bag going missing...31 is clearly far worse that 3!

Crappy statistics. Gotta love em for their sensationalistic value.

Overall, though, the story has a point. Thank you for educating readers, Annys!

Posted by: CyanSquirrel | October 6, 2006 12:06 PM

Agree with the statistics problem. Also are there statistics on LOST (as in NEVER returns) versus mishandled?
I've traveled extensiviely for the last thirty years and have had very few mishandled bags and none lost (though since I just said that,it will happen).
However I've started taking a picture of my bags (with my cell phone) just before I hand them over so I can show it to the claims clerk.
Also - entrust valuable stuff (laptops etc.) to either carry on or a registered carrier (FedEX, UPS, etc.). As other comments show the airlines have permission to open and the employees think they can keep anything they find if they want to. My son and his wife lost all of the Christmas toys (for their newborn) from their baggage last Christmas - no compensation. Only the toys were missing.

Posted by: not | October 6, 2006 12:38 PM

A few years ago my wife and I flew from DCA to Europe on Swiss airlines. One of our bags was opened and a number of items taken. The airline disallowed my claim completely as I didn't notice the theft until we got to the hotel, and they would only accept responsibility if I noticed and reported at the airport. Not only that, my supplemental AmEX baggage protection plan didn't pay up because the airline has to at least agree that you have a claim before that protection kicks in. Lessons learned!!

Posted by: Gary | October 6, 2006 1:34 PM

Here are my statistics showing the app. number of trips I've taken on various airlines and the number of times they've lost my bags:
USAir 50 trips, 0 lost bags
Delta 60 trips, 0 lost bags
Continental 20 trips, 0 lost bags
American 60 trips, 0 lost bags
AirTran 2 trips, 0 lost bags
TWA 30 trips, 0 lost bags
Northwest 30 trips, 0 lost bags
Midwest 10 trips, 0 lost bags
UNITED 50 trips, 12 lost bags
United, unbelievable.

Posted by: mart | October 6, 2006 2:00 PM

My ex-husband decided to check our digital camera in his baggage. When he arrived in Germany it was missing. He enquired about the camera when he arrived back home. He was told it was removed from the luggage because cameras weren't allowed to be in checked luggage. Has anyone heard of this??? So he asked where the camera was so it could be returned to him. Naturally... they had no idea where they had placed the camera after removing the banned item from his luggage.

What I couldn't fathom is why the heck he placed an expensive item like this in his checked luggage. I never put anything that I might actually care if it went missing into checked luggage.

Posted by: Billie | October 6, 2006 2:24 PM

United lost our gate-checked stroller on a non-stop flight. Yep, that's right, it was supposed to be the last thing on and the first thing off. When the situation was realized, we were offered a rude apology, but no one bothered to help us get through Dulles with our 25 pound baby in our arms, along with our carry-on luggage, which adds up when traveling with a little guy.

The most shocking development was when we tried to file a claim (we never did, it was a cheap stroller and he was getting too fussy to hang around), we noticed at least 50 car seats in the lost luggage area. CAR SEATS. Children are not supposed to ride in a car without a car seat... in most places it's illegal. What do those parents do?

Posted by: mom | October 6, 2006 2:50 PM

We traveled to Italy 2 days after the ban went into place on Delta. Even though they received "special" handling because we had first class tickets (at 90,000 FF a pop), they lost all 3 of our bags. The customer service in Italy was laughable so we ended up calling the 1-800 number in the states most of the time. We ended up getting one bag back 12 hours before we left to come home, it was a week long trip. We received the 2nd one 4 days after we returned. The 3rd one is still missing. They are reviewing our claim and we should know something in 9 to 12 weeks. How a bag can disappear in this day and age is just beyond me.

Posted by: Ben | October 6, 2006 3:01 PM

What percentage of baggage loss is due to theft versus preblems with handling?
I guess a number of problems occur because travelers in a hurry grab someone else's luggage.


Posted by: Serge Lescouarnec | October 6, 2006 3:14 PM

Billie: is this the reason (packing expensive items on checked-in luggage) why he is your ex-husband?

Posted by: troublemaker | October 6, 2006 3:52 PM

I flew from DC to Miami in June and was forced by American Airlines to gate-check my bag. Got to Miami - no bag. Filed a lost bag report. American Airlines security called the next day to say my bag had been stolen off the conveyor belt in Miami - they found my luggage tags and 2 items - and to please file a claim for compensation. I filed a claim and they sent me a form letter saying due to 'discrepancies' in their investigation, they wouldn't honor my claim. Now I'll probably have to spend months trying to resolve this dispute.

Posted by: Brooke H. | October 6, 2006 3:55 PM

It's funny you should mention people picking up another's luggage by accident. That has happened to me on at least three occassions. I have never been one to rush the conveyer belt when all the suitcases come out so I tend to hang back till the crowd dies down some. I was coming back from a trip to Tennessee to Dulles and was waiting for my bag with my finace. A guy I had never seen before picked up my bag and started walking off with it. I ran after him screaming: Hey, sir I belive you have my bag. After a quick name tag inspection I was given my belongings back. What made the whole thing even more interesting is that I tie bright obnoxious ribbons to the handle of my suitcase so I can spot it easier. How this man thought a bag with a bright magenta ribbon on it was his is beyond me. But eh, maybe he was distracted.

Posted by: Melissa | October 6, 2006 4:28 PM

TSA stands for "Taking Stuff Away."

Posted by: CPS | October 6, 2006 4:39 PM

My wife and I recently flew from Washington DC to Frankfurt, Germany, on Lufthansa. My wife's suitcase failed to come off the luggage conveyor, and we needed to get in our rental car and drive to Prague in the Czech Republic. We spoke with the Lufthansa "baggage problems" agent --- a woman who spoke flawless English. She called all over the airport looking for the bag. When that proved unsuccessful she handed my wife a 50 Euro bill to help with the purchase of any immediate necessities, a free overnight kit that included a long tee shirt that could be used for sleeping, and a claim form to fill out and submit if the bag was never found. In fact, it WAS found and forwarded to the Prague airport, where we picked it up. We considered this exemplary service, and in a foreign country where we had limited knowledge of the language, it was doubly welcome.

Posted by: Jim | October 6, 2006 5:21 PM

I flew with Delta Airlines the last two weeks of September 2006. I was supposed to fly directly from Seattle, Wa. to Atlanta, Ga. and then on to Barcelona, Spain. However, I missed the connection in Atlanta and was re-routed to Brussels and then to Barcelona. My luggage took a different flight and went to London first and then to Barcelona. Believe it or not, in London the inspectors stole a package of Reeses Peanut Butter Cups and a special cloth I had purchased to clean CD's with. (As a side note, a couple of years earlier I had a digital camera stolen from my bag in London.) I suppose the loss of the candy is my own fault. The Delta check-in agent warned me that I shouldn't put valuables in my bags because their baggage workers often stole things from the bags. However, even after hearing her words, I felt my candy was relatively free from the threat of pilferage, but it obviously wasn't.

Posted by: Roger Mattingly | October 6, 2006 5:59 PM


Posted by: Test | October 6, 2006 8:00 PM

The last four flights my boys and I have taken on Continental either a bag was damaged beyond repair, items were missing, or electronic items were disabled. In the same time frame we have taken maybe 30 flights on other carriers and had no problems. Unless I have to, I will not use Continental again.

Oh yes, all the Continental flights were delayed as well.

Posted by: Roger S | October 6, 2006 8:08 PM

As an avid traveler for both business and pleasure, the prompt arrival and safety of my bags is always an important issue for me. I have had my bags lost a couple of times and as the liquid ban took effect and airport travel became increasingly stressful I began to forward my luggage more often to avoid the hassle. There are many services that forward luggage, but I've found that Luggage Forward ( is the most consistent and reliable. They will pick up your bags at your door and deliver them to your precise destination. They guarantee domestic shipments and offer competitive pricing as well as a great insurance policy. I've found these types of services to be especially helpful when traveling with bulky and/or expensive items like golf clubs or skis, etc.

Posted by: Barbara | October 8, 2006 3:36 PM

It's funny how much security goes from you giving the bag. I think we need to start having that much security from the point your bag is handled till it's given back to you.

It's a federal crime to open your junk mail intended for you. They need to treat your bag as seriously.

Posted by: Jeff | October 9, 2006 2:38 AM

Just as puzzling, I've been told by airlines that they lack the ability to determine where one's luggage is at any point in time. Makes me wonder what that white tag with bar codes is for....

Posted by: Dan | October 10, 2006 1:40 PM

I just had a $1000 camera 'pilfered' from my baggage while traveling with American Airlines (AA). I arrived in Tucson AZ on Saturday October 7 (2006), flying from Paris (CDG) with a layover in Chicago O'Hare. On arriving at my destination and opening my bag, I immediately noticed my bag was not packed the way I had packed it. My $1000 camera, a $60 camera bag, and a $100 pair of prescription sunglasses were STOLEN.

Phoning the Tucson baggage services was useless, AA does nothing for 'pilfered items' and only handles lost baggage cases. If my bag had gone missing they would reimburse me $2800 with seemingly little hassle. I phoned the AA toll free number and got the same response, 'NOT RESPONSIBLE'. My problem is, my bag arrived after being 'pilfered' and what was left in the bag is of basically no value.

I am in the process of understanding the maze of paperwork and how to file a complaint with AA, the TSA, and I am filing a police report in the city of Tucson. This is a THEFT, a CRIMINAL act.

The AA phone representatives have tried to explain that checked baggage 'goes through a lot of hands' and they cannot be responsible for items 'pilfered' (e.g. STOLEN). Aside from my current sorrow and headache, I want to make one other point.

If a baggage handler is able to pilfer/steal a large camera with a bag and is able to remove it undetected from the secure baggage handling area, how long before the same handler puts something INTO a bag? How long before the baggage handler, who is presumably STEALING for monetary gain, will accept a BRIBE and put something into a bag. Something like a bomb?

So the net time you are being frisked at the security checkpoints. Don't feel safe, think about what is going on underneath you in the 'authorized personnel only' areas. Is someone 'pilfering' your bag, or maybe jeopardizing the safety of every person on board by exploiting an unacceptable internal baggage security system? If you work for an airline and/or have friends that fly on planes, are they safe? Does this flawed system make you happy?

Does the following questions you are repeatedly asked really mean you and your fellow passengers and crew are safe? "Has anyone unknown to you given you something that you are bringing aboard the aircraft? and Has your luggage been in your possession at all times since you packed it?". These are MEANINGLESS questions.

Happy flying,

Robert (no camera) Cudmore

Posted by: Robert Cudmore | October 14, 2006 3:52 PM

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