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Lost Luggage: The Worst and Best U.S. Airlines Handling Your Bags

Written by Kevin V. NguyenUpdated at Dec. 20, 2022 • 6:51pmPublished Dec. 20, 2022 • 4:50pm
A traveler sorts through unclaimed luggage at United Airline's baggage claim area in San Francisco International Airport on Dec. 16, 2022. | Kevin V. Nguyen/The Standard

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The pandemic-era dip in airport travel is basically over. With more passengers flying in 2022, bag thefts have risen, too.

In San Francisco, data provided by the airport police bureau shows total baggage theft reports have nearly doubled at SFO, with 119 thefts reported in 2022 as of publication, compared with only 67 in 2021. 

Meanwhile, the theft rate per 100,000 passengers has remained steady. A San Francisco Police Department spokesperson said on an average of every 100,000 passengers, roughly 0.30 filed a theft report so far this year, up from 0.28 last year. 

Travelers wait for their bags at the Oakland International Airport. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

In the Department of Transportation’s latest consumer report—which looks at data from January to September—major U.S. airlines mishandled or lost nearly 2.2 million bags compared with 1.4 million the year before. 

The number of bags mishandled per 100 passengers went from 0.49 in 2021 to 0.61 in 2022. 

Insights by Airline

The airlines that handled the most bags were: Southwest (90 million), American (78 million), Delta (71 million), United (52 million), Alaska (20 million) and JetBlue (11 million).

Including all of their affiliate airlines—American (677K), Southwest (448K), Delta (385K) and United (330K) mishandled the most bags, but also carried the most passengers. 

By theft rate, which takes the number of bags lost divided by the total number of bags checked, the following airlines are ranked accordingly:  

The worst four airlines are: American (0.86), JetBlue (0.68), Alaska (0.68) and United (0.63).

The (major) airlines that have the lowest theft rate according to the data are: Spirit (0.48), Southwest (0.50) and Delta (0.54). Hawaiian Airlines (0.31) is also noteworthy.

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