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Lost luggage surprise: 97% of bags are found, returned within 2 days

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Returning from a recent leisure trip to Miami, Jerry Jorgensen landed in Detroit only to face one of the biggest frustrations of air travel: His bag was nowhere to be found.

After making several dozen calls, Jorgensen got American Airlines to return his bag. But the Michigan dairy farmer was not happy. The airline "passed me around on the phone like a hot potato," he said.

The good news about lost luggage is that airlines worldwide eventually recover 97% of mishandled bags.

That is one of 10 surprising facts about flying with luggage that came out of a new study by international air transport technology specialist SITA.

The total number of bags that were lost, delayed or damaged by airlines around the world dropped 17% in 2013 to nearly 22 million. But airline travel increased about 5% last year, so the rate of mishandled bags dropped 21% to about seven per 1,000 passengers.

Of all mishandled bags, 81% were simply delayed, 16% were damaged or pilfered and 3% were declared lost or stolen and never found.

The cost to airlines to find, deliver or replace mishandled bags was $2.09 billion in 2013, a 20% decline from 2012.

The top cause for delayed bags was when baggage handlers made errors transferring bags from one airplane to another. That accounted for 45% of mishandled bags.

The worst year for mishandled bags in the last decade was 2007, when airlines lost 47 million bags. The rate was nearly 19 mishandled bags per 1,000 passengers.

Since 2007, the rate of mishandled bags has dropped about 63%

Airlines in Asia have a lower rate of lost bags (nearly two per 1,000 passengers) than North America ( three per 1,000 passengers).

In 2013, airlines took an average of 36 hours to return delayed bags to their owners.

Airlines worldwide collect about $10 billion from checked bag fees but spend about $31 billion to move luggage from airport to airport.

More than 60% of airlines say that by the end of 2016 they expect to send luggage location updates and allow travelers to file missing bag reports via smartphones.

Flight attendants fight to make knife ban permanent

Under pressure from lawmakers and flight attendants, the Transportation Security Administration backed off last year on a plan to allow knives on commercial planes.

But flight attendants want to make sure that the ban that began after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks stays in place indefinitely. The Assn. of Flight Attendants is backing a bill to prevent the TSA from ever lifting the ban.

"A permanent ban would ensure that we never again have to fight this common-sense issue," said Corey Caldwell, a spokeswoman for the association, which represents about 60,000 flight attendants.

The bill by Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y) was introduced last week and referred to a homeland security committee.

A TSA spokesman declined to comment on the bill and would not speculate on future changes to the knife ban.

"The administration reversed its earlier decision and nothing has changed," said TSA spokesman David Castelveter.

Airlines may be unpopular, but travelers like their websites

Airlines in the U.S. don't have a very good reputation among travelers. Maybe those ever-multiplying passenger fees and ever-shrinking economy seats play a role in that.

But American carriers can at least take solace in the news that travelers are pretty happy with airline websites.

An annual customer study — the American Customer Satisfaction Index — found that airlines ranked near the bottom among all industries, with a rating of 69 on a scale of 1 to 100.

But the same index found that airline websites got a satisfaction rating of 80. In fact, airline websites ranked slightly higher than websites for online travel businesses such as Travelocity, Expedia and Priceline, which got a score of 77.

The highest-rated websites were for credit unions (86), consumer shipping companies (85) and banks (85).

hugo.martin@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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