Recently I disembarked a long flight to find my luggage already waiting on the carousel for me. In fact, it was as if the bags delivery had been perfectly timed as it allowed me to stroll up to the carousel and collect it.
This was as an odd experience. Why? Because I’m usually waiting until the end to collect my bag.
Many people theorise as to the order bags are delivered. It’s clear priority baggage will be first. But then what? The bags that went on the plane last, and thus offloaded first? Or the other way around?
In many cases I only have myself to blame as I often travel with my bike, which usually comes out last as oversized baggage.
Waiting gives me time to people watch in the baggage haul. Fortunately, at the time of writing, an airline has never lost my bag, but I’ve seen plenty of others told their bag has gone missing.
When will my luck run out?
For the last 5 years Sita, an airline consultancy, have produced analysis titled, The Baggage Report, that reports on airline baggage trends.
Using these 5 reports I compiled the key stats regarding mishandled bags for analysis. Mishandled bags includes those lost or stolen, those that have been damaged or had items stolen, or those that have been delayed on arrival.
Data exists for years 2003, 2007, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 and covers major global airlines.
Reasons for mishandled baggage (2018)
77% of mishandled bags are delayed, 18% damaged or pilfered, with 5% completely lost or stolen.
Total passengers vs. mishandled bags
Passenger numbers continue to increase year-on-year. In 2018 4.36 billion passengers were carried, compared to 1.89 billion in 2003.
Though airlines and airports are handling the increase well. There is an inverse correlation between passenger and mishandled bags; as passengers have increased, mishandled bags have generally decreased.
2018 saw a slight increase in mishandled bags (5.69 per 1000 pax), up from 2017 (5.57 per 1000 pax). Though this is a massive improvement on 2003 (13.2 per 1000 pax) and 2007 (18.8 per 1000 pax!), despite the increased passenger traffic in the last few years.
Total mishandled bags each year
Almost 25 million bags were mishandled in 2018. We know of this 25 million, 5% were lost or stolen — that’s 1.25 million bags that passengers will never see again.
Assuming each bag has $500 worth of items in, which I would argue is an underestimate including the bag, that’s $625 million worth of lost baggage insurance companies might have to cover in the worst case.
Expanding this further, if each bag and its contents averages $1000 in value (what many basic travel insurance policies will cover) that adds up to $1.25 billion worth of lost and stolen baggage in 2018 globally!
77% or 19.25 million bags were delayed in 2018 meaning the airlines then have to deliver them back to passengers. Assuming it costs $10 to deliver each bag back to a traveller on average (this is a complete guess), that’s another $192.5 million airlines have to budget for (in their razor thin margins).
Chances you’ll lose a bag
Overall, you had a 0.57% chance of your bag being mishandled in 2018 — that’s 1 bag mishandled for every 175 passengers. Following current trends, this risk is likely to be slightly reduced in 2019.
You had a very low chance of your bag being completely lost or stolen (0.03% or 1 in 3333 passengers). It’s much more likely your bag was delayed (0.44% or 1 in 227 passengers).
You had a 0.57% chance of your bag being mishandled in 2018 — that’s 1 bag mishandled for every 175 passengers.