22 million bags missing in '13, and that's an improvement

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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, Mr. 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 is that airlines worldwide eventually recover 97 percent 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 percent in 2013 to nearly 22 million. But airline travel increased about 5 percent last year, so the rate of mishandled bags dropped 21 percent to about seven per 1,000 passengers.

Of all mishandled bags, 81 percent were simply delayed, 16 percent were damaged or pilfered and 3 percent 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 percent 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 percent of mishandled bags.

The worst year for mishandled bags in the past 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 percent

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 percent 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.


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