If you are a frequent flyer, it's bound to happen at least once in your lifetime - you arrive, and your bags don't.
It's every travellers' worst nightmare: you're standing there at the carousel in the airport, watching as people claim their bags and walk away, until no more are left, and you get that sinking feeling that today is not your lucky day.
According to SITA, the international air transport body which develops global baggage tracking technology, the number of passengers flying the globe has skyrocketed 67% in just 10 years. This means that with literally billions of bags going through airports every day, the industry has had a lot of catching up to do.
However, travellers will be glad to know that the rate of 'baggage mishandling' actually is dropping every year. SITA's 2017 report states that last year, the rate of 'mishandled' bags was 5.57 per every thousand bags - the lowest ever recorded - and this is expected to keep improving as new technology gets rolled out worldwide.
Nonetheless, human error is something unlikely to go away, and some airlines are better than others, so in the meantime, we've compiled a list of 10 that are most likely to lose your bags, as well as 10 that you can trust, so you can fly with peace of mind.
Qatar Airways operates out of the ultra modern Hamid International Airport hub in Doha, and has become famous worldwide as a leading five-star airline. In 2018 it became the first airline in the world to implement an in-house baggage management system and seamless real-time integration with Qatar’s website and mobile app. The mobile app lets passengers track their bags through check-in, transfer and arrival, minimizing the risk of human error, giving it one of the lowest rates of lost luggage globally.
Going through Manila, the capital city of the Philippines, is risky business when it comes to baggage 'mishandling'. Earlier this year, the management at Ninoy Aquino International Airport had to fire its ground handling service after years of complaints about lost luggage and frequent incidents of baggage theft. The airport was rated one of the worst in the world by the Sleeping in Airports website, and the country's president, President Rodrigo Duterte himself, ordered management to make changes, according to The Jakarta Post.
Cebu Pacific, one of the country's low cost carriers, is notorious for mishandled luggage, lengthy wait times to get luggage returned, and theft both in check-in and carry-on bags in the overhead compartment. It even recommends having your bags wrapped in plastic before your flight. If going to or through the beautiful islands of the Philippines, hold tight to your valuables, even on the plane.
While European airlines have a bad reputation compared to their counterparts in Asia or North America, Italy's Alitalia is one airline that is actively making improvements.
Last year, Alitalia became the first in Europe to be certified by IATA for achieving compliance with a baggage tracking resolution at its huge hub in Rome. Since 2015 the airline has made significant investments in baggage management and a complete reorganization of the baggage handling process at the airport, making it a lot less likely to suffer mishandled baggage.
Lost luggage not only costs passengers time and money, but it costs airlines too. According to South African news website IOL, the country's ailing national carrier is 'losing heaps of money on baggage pilferage alone'. Theft and loss was becoming so rampant that in 2014 the airline announced that it would permanently begin complimentary luggage wrapping as an anti-theft measure. But, the plastic wrapping won't be much help if your bag goes 'missing' during loading and transfers.
It's growing rapidly, and investing a lot in its new baggage handling technology systems, making it one of the best in the business when it comes to tracking and handling. Alaska Airlines has consistently ranked as one of the best carriers in the US in recent years. It is currently in the process of merging with Virgin America, the US offshoot of Richard Branson's UK carrier Virgin Atlantic, which was ranked as #3 in the US for baggage handling, meaning this merger will combine two airlines with an awesome track record.
While airlines in the U.S. have taken great strides to reduce the amount of lost bags - with figures falling some 60% in a decade, according to the Department of Transportation - some still perform better than others when it comes to getting your luggage on the right journey. ExpressJet, a regional airline based out of Georgia, was the worst performer, losing 4.02 bags per 1,000 passengers, more than twice its closest competitors; JetBlue and Spirit.
Japan's largest carrier, All Nippon Airways (ANA), is one of the world's best 5-star airlines for incredible comfort, service, and performance. You may also recognize it as the airline that likes interesting themes, such as Pokemon, or, more recently, Star Wars.
One of ANA's hubs, Kansai International Airport in Osaka, is the only airport in the world that can boast it has never - yes, you read that right - never lost a bag, ever.
According to the Daily Mail, Skytrax found that Kansai Airport has a 100% delivery record in all 24 years it has been in operations. Impressive!
Emirates may be able to boast about its incredibly luxurious business and first class cabins, which have hot showers, personal assistants, a fully loaded bar, and sleeper cabins. But even flying first class is no guarantee your bags will get there. This famous 4-star airline has made headlines repeatedly for lost luggage, including a paraplegic's wheelchair, according to the New Zealand Herald.
In addition, Emirates was ranked one of the worst offenders when it comes to compensation for delayed or cancelled flights, and lost luggage, even refusing to pay after the Civil Aviation Authority ruled in the passenger's favour. One Gulf News article described a family losing 'four bags, two child’s car seats and a child’s pushchair'. Talk about a ruined holiday!
The first airline in Europe to gain 5-star status under Skytrax, Lufthansa is a leader in the industry and considered one of the most comfortable, well serviced carriers around.
Since 2016 it has offered real-time baggage tracking via mobile phones, so you always know where your bags are. According to Conde Nast Traveller, if you do suffer a lost bag, you can use the app to give instructions about where you would like the bag delivered, allowing you to skip the headache of waiting around an airport or having to go back again and again to get your bag.
Icelandic low cost carrier WOW Air is rated one of the worst by AirHelp for claims processing, which includes trying to get compensation for lost luggage. The airline has only been in operations for six years, but already the CEO has admitted to CNBC that it has to 'do better'. One interesting case occurred when a traveller lost his bag en route to Europe, and 90 days later received a car part instead of his luggage - a seven-foot-long box containing a part from Toyota Motors, according to Travel+Leisure.
In another case, one WOW flight going to Canada failed to load half of its luggage, having to send it to Toronto the next day.
The flag carrier of Hong Kong is another 5-star rated airline with a vast global network. It has invested heavily in making its operations more efficient, from its super fast self check-in and bag drop at the airport to international bag tracking technology. In addition, Hong Kong International Airport, the main hub of CX, is highly computerized, using RFID tags for all bags, big data analytics, and is testing facial recognition machines for immigration to create a faster and more streamlined process.
According to the SITA 2018 Baggage Report, the baggage mishandling rate in Europe is the highest in the world, so it should be no surprise that a number of European airlines are on the 'Most Likely' list. TAP Air Portugal is considered the worst offender, and according to The Portugal News the national carrier is the most complained about airline in the country, primarily due to lost or damaged luggage, cancellations and delays.
While RyanAir might be an airline that people love to hate, statistics show that it actually ranks at the top of the list of airlines that are most likely to get your bags to where they need to go. This Irish airline made waves when it launched as a low cost carrier, offering cheap flights but charging for things like boarding passes, water, and carry-on bags.
According to FlightChic, it did have a low rate of 0.55 mishandled bags per 1,000 customers in 2015, but this is partly due to the fact that it does not offer connecting flights, which is where most bags become lost. So, if you're going from A to B, rest assured RyanAir will get you there.
This low-cost carrier operating out of India has the slogan 'Red. Hot. Spicy', which perhaps is true about its in-flight meals, but its frequent delays and lost luggage leaves many passengers hot under the collar too.
A Daily Mail article from 2015 claimed that out of all of the airlines in India, SpiceJet tops the list of offenders, with 22% of complaints being made about lost or damaged luggage.
In addition, the report added that airports in India receive about 50 complaints a day about baggage theft, so follow the common-sense rule to always keep your valuables in your carry-on if going to or through India.
If you happen to be going to this archipelago of some 700 islands, rest assured your bikinis and flip flops will most likely make it too. Though just a few years ago almost all the baggage handling in the Bahamas was done by hand and on paper - leaving much room for human error - Bahamas Air is investing a lot in high tech infrastructure to make sure your bags arrive on the same flight you to and can be tracked every step of the way, which is a big improvement for a small airline.
Passengers who have lost their baggage on Morocco's national carrier have described dealing with the aftermath as 'frustrating' and 'pointless', according to Front Page Africa. People who spoke with the news agency explained that despite a full record of their movements and a barcoded baggage tag, it took not days but weeks to get their bags back, and when they were returned, they had been broken into and pilfered, with items missing.
One victim said “If you do decide to risk it, my advice is to travel with hand luggage only, especially if you are connecting through Casablanca."
Delta was once notorious for losing luggage, but it has invested more than US$50 million to introduce new baggage handling systems and ensure the accurate routing and loading of the 180 million bags it handles each year, according to SITA. Earlier in 2018, they began using RFID chip baggage tags to checked luggage on routes between the USA and London Heathrow. In addition, they are testing facial recognition technology for a new self service bag drop.
Delta now consistently records some of the lowest mishandled bag numbers in US, making it a safe bet when travelling to or through the US.
Last year this British airline made headlines after it left 60 bags behind at an airport in Egypt due to heavy passenger load. The group of passengers affected were not even informed of the situation until they arrived at Newcastle Airport and found their bags missing.
Skytrax has given Thomas Cook just two stars, with a customer rating of 5/10, so if flying around Europe, best to choose an alternative airline.
Aeroflot was once considered one of the most dangerous airlines in the world due to accidents, but over the past fifteen years this Russian national carrier has made a complete turnaround to transform itself into a 4-star airline, on par with the likes of Emirates and British Airways. According to SITA, in January 2018, Aeroflot became the first airline in Russia to provide real-time location tracking for all the baggage it handles, using the new BagJourney computer system, meaning you always know where your bags are going.
Actually, you won't have to worry about flying with this airline anymore, because earlier this year it went bankrupt and ceased operations. One journalist at Slate.com described its luggage handling as 'a portal to a strange, disorienting, Kafka-esque universe in which bags disappear or are abducted', citing one incredible instance where a flight from Stockholm to Berlin somehow failed to load any baggage, leaving more than 200 bags behind.
Disgruntled passengers formed a Facebook group to keep track of the slow, painful progress in dealing with the airline. Air Berlin was also reported to have lost all of the musical instruments for Swedish metal band Sabaton - the second time in a month it misplaced a band's entire set.
Sources: SITA, The Economist, The Telegraph, Airport-Technology.com, Skytrax, Travel+Leisure