What happens to lost luggage?

For every 1000 global passengers travelling by air, almost six pieces of luggage were  misplaced in 2016, according to the most current report from SITA (Société Internationale de Télécommunications Aéronautiques), which produces an annual report on the state of baggage handling around the world.

That statistic translates into about 21.6 million bags being mishandled. But if you think that is bad, it is actually an incredible improvement over a decade. In 2007, the number of suitcases going AWOL was closer to 19 per 1000 travellers.

In a UK Daily Telegraph article, SITA also reports that 85 per cent of luggage lost is actually returned to its owner within 36 hours.

Of the missing bags, SITA says that:

  • 47 per cent went missing due to transfer mishandling
  • 16 per cent because of failure to load
  • 15 per cent due to a ticketing error and the remainder due to a mix of tagging errors, loading errors, and airport/customs/weather/space-weight restrictions
  • 4 per cent of delayed baggage was due to arrival mishandling, and
  • 7 per cent were lost or stolen, never to be returned to owners 

The figures do not account for about another 10 per cent of luggage that is considered mishandled.

While the number of bags mishandled may seem high, they are actually in good hands thanks to the World Tracer System, which is used universally, and tracks an item for 100 days.

A spokesperson for Virgin Atlantic told the Telegraph: “The system works 24/7 searching for matches between the delayed bag reports the customer has made, and the found bag reports that the airline has made, and it makes suggestions for matches based on the criteria in the files. Our baggage-tracing team continuously looks at these matches, liaises with the airports and the customers, identifies the right bag and owner, and facilitates the return of the bag.”

Depending on which part of the world you are travelling through, your chances of losing your baggage in transit varies. The average in Asia is 1.81 bags lost for every 1000 passengers, in North America, 2.7 bags go missing for every 1000 passengers, and Europe logs eight lost bags for every 1000 travellers.

If after 100 days a bag has not been claimed or returned to its owner it often ends up going to a type of lost property warehouse where the bag and its contents are eventually auctioned off, with proceeds going to charity.

In Australia, if your luggage is damaged or lost, you have 21 days to report it to the airline. The maximum compensation you can receive for a loss is $900, according to news.com.au. International travellers can claim around $2000 under those circumstances.

Always make sure you take a picture of your luggage before you depart, including any valuable content, measure its dimensions and keep all documentation and ticketing details, in case you lose it or it is returned damaged.

Have you ever lost your luggage en route? How long was it before it was returned? What reason did the airline give for the baggage being mishandled?

Written by Olga Galacho

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