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Southwest Is the Best With Your Bags—This Airline Is the Worst

The worst offender is much more likely to lose or delay your bags.

While many Americans are thrilled to be back in the air after years of deferred travel plans amid pandemic restrictions, the experience can be anything but seamless under the current flying conditions. There can be snaking security lines to contend with, as well as mass flight cancellations and delays amid an industry-wide staffing shortage. Even worse, this staffing shortage is creating potentially dangerous cabin conditions, with overstretched pilots reporting extreme fatigue.

Beyond all these air travel hassles, there's also always the potential for a lost, delayed, or damaged bag—and anyone who's had it happen knows how fast it can ruin your whole experience. But not all airlines have the same record when it comes to handling bags. Read on to see the data that reveals the biggest offender.

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Overall, approximately seven out of every 1,000 bags is lost.

bag check
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According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, mishandled bags are "the number of check bags that are lost, damaged, delayed, and pilfered, as reported by or on behalf of the passenger, that were in the airline's custody for its reportable domestic nonstop scheduled passenger flights." Luggage mishandling is a common occurrence.  More than 684,000 bags were mishandled in just the first three months of 2022 alone, according to data from the Air Travel Consumer Reports published by the Department of Transportation and cited by The Points Guy. For perspective, that means about seven out of every 1,000 bags end up lost or delayed.

Southwest is the airline least likely to mishandle your bags, according to the data.

Southwest Airlines at the T. F. Green Airport in Warwick Rhode Island
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Out of the top four major domestic carriers—American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, and Southwest Airlines—Southwest is the least likely to lose or damage your bag, the data shows. In the last year, it mishandled just four bags per 1,000.

And that's really saying something, considering Southwest is known for its liberal bag policy—each passenger can check up to two bags without an additional cost—so the airline handles a lot of bags.  In the last year, the airline handled nearly 110 million, and 16 million just in the first two months of this year.

But even with so much volume (or perhaps because of its well-practiced operations), its record comes out on top.

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Delta and United mishandle approximately the same amount of luggage.

UNITED AIRLINES STAR ALLIANCE sign at check in location RDU International Airport
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In the middle of the list are Delta Air Lines (and its branded codeshare partners) as well as United Airlines (and its branded codeshare partners). Each of these airlines handles substantially fewer bags than Southwest (88,253,859 and 64,030,980 respectively in the last 12 months). But they also mishandled a larger number of them, with both major players losing or damaging more than five bags per 1,000 (5.2 and 5.3 respectively).

American Airlines mishandled more bags than any other major air carrier.

Inside Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, passengers use the American Airlines self-serve check-in kiosks within terminal B/C. American Airlines is the fifth largest airline in the United States.
iStock

The same data reveals the airline that holds the dubious distinction as the one most likely to mishandle your bags is American Airlines—and it's not even a close contest.

American Airlines handles nearly as many bags as Southwest's high-volume operation, at 104,377,330 in the last 12 months. Of those, it lost, delayed, or damaged 835,200, for a total of eight in 1,000. That means its record is only half as good as Southwest's—or, put more directly, twice as bad.

As a passenger, you do have rights when something happens to your bag. Airlines are responsible for repairing or reimbursing a passenger for damaged baggage and/or its contents when the damage occurs while the bag is under the airline's control during transportation, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). If any damage to the bag cannot be repaired, airlines will negotiate a compensation amount based on the value of the bag (factoring in depreciation). Further, airlines are required to compensate passengers for "reasonable, verifiable, and actual incidental expenses that they may incur while their bags are delayed," according to DOT.

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Alesandra Dubin
Alesandra Dubin is a lifestyle editor and writer based in Los Angeles. Read more
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