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Worldwide rate of lost luggage on airlines hits record low

Worldwide rate of lost luggage on airlines hits record low
Passengers wait for their luggage on a conveyor belt at Heathrow Airport in London. The rate of lost luggage worldwide dropped to a record low in 2015, according to a study. (Chris Ratcliffe / Bloomberg)

When you check a bag before boarding an American Airlines flight, the location of your luggage can be checked through a smartphone app.

"Not only can passengers see where the bags are but so can our employees," American Airlines spokesman Ross Feinstein said.

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The technology is not unique to American Airlines. Delta Air Lines recently invested $50 million to use radio-wave scanners to keep track of bags.

Such advancements are the main reason the world's airline industry has reported an all-time low rate of lost or mishandled luggage, according to a new study by SITA, a Geneva-based airline technology company.

The report, which surveyed 440 airlines and ground handlers that use SITA technology, said the worldwide rate of lost luggage dropped 10.5% in 2015 compared with the previous year, to 6.53 bags per 1,000 passengers. The decline comes as the number of airline passengers has jumped 7%, to 3.5 billion fliers in 2015, the report said.

In the United States, the rate of lost luggage dropped 10% in 2015 to 3.24 bags per 1,000 passengers, SITA said. The study is consistent with statistics from the U.S. Department of Transportation that show a steady decline in the U.S. rate over the last decade.

But airlines are not working hard to keep track of your bags just to keep passengers happy. It costs airlines big money to recover misplaced bags or reimburse passengers when luggage can't be found.

Thanks to investments by airlines, the global airline industry has cut the cost of mishandled bags from $4.2 billion in 2007 to $2.3 billion last year, the study found.

And there may soon be another reason for airlines to cut the rate of lost luggage: Federal lawmakers are now considering legislation that would require all airlines to reimburse passengers for checked bag fees if luggage is lost or delayed.

To read more about travel, tourism and the airline industry, follow me on Twitter at @hugomartin.

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