Airlines losing 3000 bags – every hour of every day

In 2009, the worlds airlines lost a whopping 25 million pieces of passenger luggage. That comes down to just under 3000 bags every hour of every day, all year long. These shocking statistics were published by SITA – one of the operators of airline and airport computer systems, using data from the World Traver luggage database.

SITA breaks down the reasons behind bags not arriving at their destination:

  • During aircraft transfers – 52%
  • Failed to load – 16%
  • Ticketing error / bag switch / security / other – 13%
  • Airport / customs / weather / space-weight restriction – 6%
  • Loading / offloading error – 7%
  • Arrival station mishandling – 3%
  • Tagging error – 3%

There is some good news though – 96.6% of all bags do manage to reach their owner – eventually. This still leaves over 800,000 bags that end up going unclaimed. Bags that never arrive are often simply abandoned by their owners, or fall victim to theft at the airport. After six months, all unclaimed bags are donated, sold or destroyed.

The real good news is that airlines have managed to lose fewer bags. Compared to 2008, airlines managed to decrease lost bag numbers by 23.8%. Of course, part of this is due to decreasing passenger numbers, but the worldwide decline in air travel was just 2.9%.

Bottom line is that airlines are investing heavily in luggage management, and even though they may never reach a perfect score, the current trend is very positive one – and one that will benefit everyone that checks bags. Of course, as luggage fees have started increasing, it is also refreshing to see that airlines are actually doing something with all that new money.

Don’t forget to follow our tips on keeping your luggage safe at the airport!

Trick, repack and rethink your way around the new luggage fees

If you regularly check a bag, then I’m sure the airlines would like to personally thank you for the extra income. In just two years, we’ve gone from one airline experimenting with a pay-to-check baggage system, to an industry where paying to check any bag is the new standard. Thankfully, there are ways around having to check a bag.

Obviously, this won’t work if you are carrying everything plus your kitchen sink, but smart packers can easily pack and carry everything they need for an extended trip as carry-on luggage. In this Gadling guide, we’ll explain how you can sneak a third carry-on with you, how you can check a bag for free at the gate, or when to look into simply shipping your bags.

Don’t know whether your airline charges for checked bags? Check out this comprehensive chart from

Rethink your bag strategy to maximize what you can carry

Are you traveling with a laptop bag and a small duffel? Or a handbag and a small rolling case? Rethink how you carry your stuff if you want to maximize your space. Get the largest rolling case (or duffel) the airlines allow, and find the largest expanding laptop bag that can fit under a seat.

Ladies, be aware that airlines WILL count your handbag as a “personal item”, so leave room in your two other bags for your handbag. A gate agent having a bad day will stop you and demand that you combine your items.

Find lighter luggage

Every extra pound wasted on your luggage, is a pound you could use to pack more stuff. Rolling luggage has really evolved in recent years, to the point where a very sturdy piece of rolling luggage can weigh just 5 pounds. For more lightweight products, check out our lightweight travel gift guide.

Use a jacket as a third carry-on

Yes, that’s right – a jacket can be a very sneaky third carry-on without anyone noticing. Annie took the $120 Scottevest “Women’s essential jacket” for a spin last year, and explained how its 18 pockets let you carry the contents of one bag in your jacket. Nobody will notice you are actually wearing a bag, which gives you two more bags for your crap.

Scottevest garments are available in many styles, colors and sizes at

Never make it LOOK heavy

No matter how much stuff you pack in your bags, don’t make it look heavy. The moment a gate agent sees you struggle with a bag, is the moment they’ll ask you to have the bag weighed, or point out that it is just too heavy for the overhead.

Make use of the handles on your bag, never drag a non-rolling bag through the airport, and never ask the flight attendant to help stuff your bag in the overhead – chances are they’ll point to the door and tell you to check it.

Board first

Boarding early means boarding when the overhead compartments are still relatively empty. Of course, getting the magical “group 1” on your boarding pass isn’t always easy (or possible). In some cases, the airline may offer a relatively cheap upgrade to premium economy, or you may be able to find yourself a comp to an entry level elite status.

If you are traveling with a buddy who holds group 1 eligible status, you can usually piggyback off their status.

Have a last minute backup plan

Always designate one of your bags your “flight bag”. If your massive overweight bags get noticed at the gate, and someone demands you check one of them, you don’t want to be the last person holding up the flight because you need to combine items from both bags into one.

Make sure you pack everything you need in one bag, and use the other one for less important stuff. Chargers, medication and your iPod stay together. Of course, refrain from packing expensive items in your “can check” bag, as there is no such thing as a “lucky day” when flying.


Did you make it past the check-in kiosk and the security checkpoint with your obviously overweight bag? If the gate area is packed, ask the agent for a gate check of your bag. They’ll actually appreciate your honesty and willingness to part with your bag. But best of all, they’ll slap a tag on your bag for free. Of course, this won’t work with your massive 30″ suitcase, as someone from the TSA will prevent that from making its way through the x-ray machine, but an expanded 22″ bag won’t be a problem (unless you try and stuff it in the overhead). Some airlines are even experimenting with gate check volunteers, and will reward them with a “group 1” boarding assignment.

Also, do us all a favor and don’t even bother trying to stuff an expanded bag in the overhead – it won’t fit, and you’ll just end up delaying the entire boarding process.

Dump the crap and lighten the load

Really, if you are going on a 4 day trip with two 40lb bags, then you’d better have a damn good reason. When you start packing, start going through some of the junk you have in your bags. Chances are, you don’t need half of it.

Heavy and bulky items like shoes may seem like a must have on your trip, but in some cases you may be better off with lighter flip-flops. Start by repacking your most essential items, then slowly add things you think you might need.

Ship, don’t schlep

Our very own George Hobica already did your homework on this one – in some cases, it can be cheaper, faster and safer to ship your luggage instead of trying to carry it on the plane (or check it).

FedEx or UPS can get a bag to your destination in a couple of days, which means you can leave for the airport without worrying about toiletries, clothes or other luggage. Just bring your small carry-on, and keep an eye on the tracking number. Once at your destination, if the service did its job right, your bags will be safe and sound waiting for you to have a good time.

Rethink your technology

Technology is a good friend of the lightweight traveler. Dump the laptop and get a netbook. Sell your old books and get a Kindle. Throw your old chargers in a box and get a universal lightweight laptop charger.

Yes – the investment in technology will be pretty fierce if you really want to go ultra lightweight, but your back will thank you for it.

Borrow a friend (but not a stranger)

Traveling with a buddy? If you are on the road with someone who knows the tricks, or who simply doesn’t care about paying to check a bag, you can always ask them to carry one of your bags for you. Obviously, only do this with someone who trusts you, and don’t betray their trust by using that bag for your bootleg DVD’s and “herbal products” from Amsterdam. No, really – don’t do it.



Ten of the world’s worst luggage incidents

Has an airline ever lost your bags? Did you arrive abroad, only to discover that your bags were sent in the opposite direction?

Quit your whining, things could be worse. Much, much worse.

In this lineup of major luggage mishaps, we’ll cover everything from luggage left out in the rain to bags burned to a crisp. We’ll even throw in an incident involving the tossed ashes of a passengers mother.

So, next time your bags get delayed by a couple of hours, just be grateful that the airline did not totally destroy your bag, or deliver a casket instead of your clothes.

Click here for our lineup of the world’s 10 worst luggage incidents


How to look like an experienced traveler at the airport (even if you are not)

Summer is quickly approaching, which means a large number of you will be heading to the airport for your summer vacation. If you are one of the many people in the country that only visits the airport once a year, then chances are you are going to be quite unprepared for what the airport has to offer.

In this article, you’ll find some simple ways to arrive at the airport, and not look like a once-a-year traveler. In fact, with these tips, you’ll appear to be the kind of person who gets on and off planes on a weekly basis.

Know how to pack

Planning for your trip, and being prepared for the airport starts at home, so the first couple of tips all take place long before you head for the airport.

This one may sound really stupid, but if you have not been paying attention to developments in airport security, you may still be packing full sized bottles of toiletries in your carry-on, and spreading all your stuff between 4 suitcases.

Check the web site of your airline to see what their most up to date luggage rules are. You’ll be surprised how many airlines are now charging for checked luggage. Even the big carriers want to see some cash before accepting your bags. A family of 4 may see airport luggage fees as high as $200, which would make a pretty big dent in your vacation budget before you even reach your destination.

Leave all those stickers on your luggage

Since this article is all about appearing to be an experienced traveler, you’ll want to do anything you can to create the appearance that you are a seasoned world traveler.

So, when you dig your suitcase out of the garage, don’t peel all the stickers from previous trips off the bag. Do remove any old checked luggage tags, as they will only confuse the bar code scanners at the airport.

If you still have airline logo tags or priority tags on your bag, leave them on, the same goes for hotel stickers or anything else that shows how often you are on the road.

Sign-up for the frequent flier program

Even if you only plan to use your airline once, be sure to sign-up for their frequent flier program.

Being an entry level member of the airline won’t get you a single perk, and most airlines won’t even bother sending a membership card until after your first flight with them, but every mile earned may come in handy one day.

In a really rare event, the airline may pick you if they are looking for people to upgrade, but that would only be in the event they don’t have any elite members to select from.

Online check-in is your friend

It has been a long time since a trip to the airport involved walking up to a counter to check-in. Sure, some airlines may still have a couple of desks with a real person, but the terminal long line of manned desks disappeared years ago.

If you want to be an experienced traveler, get on your computer and check-in the day before your flight. The advantage of this is that you’ll be able to pick your own seat, and may even be offered an affordable upgrade to a slightly better seat.

Before you actually pick that seat, be sure to visit Seat Guru to check out a seat map of your plane (you’ll find the plane type during your check-in screen). Many of these seats have some descriptions, and really bad seats come with warnings. Seat Guru will also let you know where to find exit row seats, because your chance of getting an exit row seat assigned at the airport is next to nothing.

Your boarding pass will come out of your own printer, but even if you can’t print right away, just check-in, to lock in your seat choice and use an airline kiosk at the airport to print your boarding documents.

Your luggage says a lot about you

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but that old leather luggage with spinning wheels is not of this era.

If you want to look like you are at the airport every week, then get yourself something modern.

Also remember that airlines hate luggage, and anyone in contact with passenger luggage will do anything in their power to destroy it, so be sure to travel with luggage that can survive a couple of trips.

Don’t be an amateur at the security line

One of the number one pet peeves of any frequent flier at the airport is amateurs clogging up the security line.

Help everyone from delays and aggravation by preparing yourself for the checkpoint. Empty your pockets completely. Do not assume that your massive belt buckle or watch won’t set off the metal detector. Assign a portion of your carry-on luggage for items you will send through the X-Ray machine.

Before you approach the checkpoint, go through all your pockets to be sure they are empty. Then be sure that you have your ID and boarding pass available for the checker at the security line. You may need to show your ID and boarding pass twice – so be sure you don’t pack it away after the first checkpoint.

If you are carrying a laptop computer, be sure you can get it out quickly, and place it in its own in a plastic bin (or invest in a security checkpoint friendly bag).

For several years, the TSA has prohibited passengers from carrying any liquids in containers over 3 ounces, and ALL liquids must be carried in a single quart size bag.

This “3-1-1” rule is explained on the TSA web site, so be sure to read through their rules before you pack your carry-on. Remember, this rule only applies to your carry-on, checked baggage is not included in these rules.

Be prepared at the gate

Once you reach your boarding gate (on time), take a seat and pay attention to the announcements. Many airlines use a boarding group system for getting passengers on the plane. On most airlines, this system will allow elite members of their frequent flier program to board first, followed by passengers in the first and business class cabin, followed by less elite members, then on to the regular passengers.

If you are really unlucky, you may be in one of the last boarding groups, which means it could take as long as 45 minutes from the time boarding commences to the time you can actually get on the plane. By then, it is not unlikely that you won’t find anywhere to store your luggage. Prepare for this by making sure anything important can be grabbed out of your carry-on in a matter of seconds, because unlucky passengers may find themselves in the back of the plane, with their bag in the front, and the last thing you want to do is walk all the way up front each time you need something from it.

Do everyone a favor, and don’t be one of those passengers that stands next to the boarding gate expecting to be the first person on board – a plane is not a train, and chances are you’ll only get in the way. Of course, if you are a top tier elite member flying in first class then feel free to ignore my advise.

If you carry medication, an iPod, or anything else you don’t want to fly without, pack it in your jacket. That way you won’t be in trouble if you do need to say goodbye to your bag.

Be prepared on the plane

I’m aware that not everyone gets on a plane every month, but ever since the early 1940’s, plane seating rows have been numbered, and those numbers start at 1 and go up at every row.

If you are seated in row 50, it does not make much sense to try and find your seat in the business class cabin in the front of the plane. You’d be amazed how many passengers get on board, then spend their first minutes trying to determine whether row 48 is next to row 2.

If you are in a really bad boarding group, then it may be worth paying the airline for an upgrade.

United Airlines is a good example of an airline that will try and nickel and dime you any chance they get – but on many flights, $50 may move you from the back of the plane to a slightly better coach seat.

This better seat often includes using the elite security line, and being moved into boarding group 1. You may also get an offer for an upgrade from coach to business or first class, but expect to pay several times your ticket price for that “luxury”. Save yourself some money by seeing whether you are given upgrade options at the check-in kiosk at the airport. Also, consider asking the gate agent if they have any paid upgrades available (this really only applies to United Airlines and their Economy Plus seating).

And finally – do everyone on the plane a favor, and get into your seat as soon as you possibly can. Nothing is more annoying than a single passenger taking 5 minutes to get his or her bags in the overhead bin, especially if it is delaying 100 fellow passengers.

If you can’t find a spot for your bag, sit down and keep it on your lap until a flight attendant reaches you. Don’t bother trying to walk up all 50 rows to the front of the plane, as every single thing you do will only delay boarding. Flight attendants will help you before the plane leaves the gate, so don’t worry about that bag.

Quick Pass Luggage Tag

In those last few moments before going through security, I always fumble with my wallet, watch, keys, and coins. Sometimes I throw them in the plastic bin and send them through the X-Ray machine, but I don’t feel very comfortable doing that. Other times, I shove the items inside a pocket in my carry-on, but they usually slip out of reach, making it difficult to access them after leaving security. With the Quick Pass Luggage Tag, these problems are a thing of the past.

The Quick Pass Luggage Tag is a mesh bag that attaches to your luggage. Most of the time, the 4¼” x 3″ pouch serves as a luggage tag — complete with an adjustable buckle strap and business card-sized ID window. When you’re heading through security, however, the small pouch unfolds, allowing you to stuff all your sensitive items into it for the journey through security. Conveniently strapped to your luggage, the $10 Quick Pass is sort of like a carry-on for your carry-on.