Where’s your luggage? In 2022, too often where it wasn’t supposed to be



  • Complaints about mishandled luggage have been higher than in prepandemic 2019—when more people were flying

Many Americans resumed air travel in 2022. But sometimes their luggage took its own side trips to destinations unknown.

On average, more than six of every 1,000 checked bags had been mishandled, according to consumer complaints logged from January to September by the Transportation Department. Rates of mishandled luggage—officially defined as lost, delayed, damaged or pilfered—are higher than those notched in 2021 and 2020, as well as in prepandemic 2019 when more people were flying.

Frustrations were particularly high over the summer, with airlines and airports seemingly unprepared for a surge of vacationers returning to the skies after two years of travel restrictions. Mishandled bags were just one piece of the problem in what was dubbed “the summer of chaos." Canceled flights and chronic delays disrupted schedules in both the U.S. and abroad. And travelers in some airports faced hourslong waits to check in, drop off their bags and go through security screenings.

Further vexing vacationers was lackluster customer service from the airlines—calls, emails, chats and tweets frequently went unanswered.

Many of the lost-luggage snafus have been blamed on labor shortages among baggage handlers, and airlines and airports say they are working to increase staffing. As a stopgap, Australian airline Qantas in August even asked its senior executives to help unload luggage.

Airlines for America, a trade group that represents commercial aviation in the U.S., declined an interview request. But a representative emailed a statement in defense of the industry, saying, “Airlines and airports are continuing to invest in baggage-handling equipment, facilities, software and personnel as travelers take to the skies."

Meanwhile, other challenges may lead to future disruptions.

In July, The Wall Street Journal reported that airlines are hard-pressed to find engines and other spare parts to keep their planes flying, blaming supply-chain bottlenecks. And in November, the Journal reported that contract talks between the country’s biggest airlines and their pilots’ unions had turned acrimonious.

On a positive note, mishandled luggage rates have fallen since their June peak, when over nine bags per 1,000 were affected. Still, many travelers are taking matters into their own hands by packing and tracking lightweight Bluetooth sensors. They can’t keep baggage from being mishandled, but they can help find the bags when they are lost.

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text

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