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Flying with baggage: Over 1.9 million bags were ‘mishandled’ by U.S. airlines in 2021

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Over 1.9 million items of baggage were reported to have been lost, stolen, or damaged by airlines in 2021. That’s according to a new analysis of the latest airline data, by Radical Storage.

Packing and planning to fly can be stressful in and of itself, however, data from the Department of Transportation reveals that even if you do everything right pre-flight there is still a risk of your bag going missing or being damaged or you not allowed to board.

To understand more about how airlines are treating their passengers, baggage storage experts, Radical Storage, analyzed data from the 2020, 2021, and 2022 Air Travel Consumer Reports - reviewing the number of bags that are mishandled - losing, damaging, or having bags stolen in transit - whilst in the care of airlines, how much airlines are making from baggage fees, and how frequently they are denying passengers from boarding.

Mishandled baggage by airlines
Since 2019, over 5.5 million (5,571,542) bags have been mishandled by airlines in the U.S., with over 1.9 million (1,918,957) reported to have been mishandled during 2021 alone.

Analyzing Air Travel Consumer Reports data, it was found that American Airlines have mishandled the most bags, data revealing the aviation giant has mishandled over 1.3 million (1,306,368) bags since 2019, and 466,678 in 2021 alone.

Southwest Airlines were found to have mishandled the second most bags in 2021 (behind American Airlines), with a reported 369,595 bags listed as mishandled during 2021. 

Over the past three years, Southwest Airlines have mishandled a total of 1,051,449 bags making them the second most likely to mishandle a passenger’s bags, while Skywest Airlines have been the third most likely to lose, damage, or misplace passenger’s bags, mishandling 760,583 in three years.

Some key findings from the study, that I thought could be of interest to you and your readers are:

  • Over 1.9 million bags were ‘mishandled’ by airlines in 2021, with 466,000 items of baggage mishandled by American Airlines alone
  • Envoy Air are the worst for mishandling bags in 2021, mishandling nine (9) bags per 1,000 handled, with American Airlines the second-worst (8.25 bags per 1,000 handled)
  • Over 5.5 million bags have been mishandled by airlines since 2019, of which, nearly one in four (23.4%) is mishandled by American Airlines
  • Nearly 173,000 passengers were denied boarding by airlines in 2021, with Southwest Airlines responsible for one in five (19.9%) of all denied boardings in 2021
  • Skywest Airlines denied 6.42 passengers per 10,000, with Republic Airways and Endeavor Air the second most likely to turn away passengers (6.21 per 10,000)
  • Over 732,000 passengers have been denied boarding by airlines since 2019,  with Delta Airlines denying 158,554 passengers boarding in just 3 years
  • U.S. airlines made over $4.2 billion in baggage fees in 2019, with American Airlines making over $1 billion
  • Spirit Airlines made an average of $18.70 per passenger in baggage fees in 2021, with Frontier Airlines making the second most per passenger ($17.70)

Airline

Mishandled Bags Since 2019

Mishandled Bags in 2021

Bags Mishandled Per 1,000 since 2019

American Airlines

1,306,368

466,678

8.02

Southwest Airlines

1,051,449

369,595

3.82

Skywest Airlines

760,583

121,430

4.60

Delta Air Lines

557,163

266,374

5.53

Jetblue Airways

373,509

60,282

5.25

However, while the likes of American Airlines and Southwest Airlines have mishandled the most in terms of volume of bags, results showed that in 2021 Envoy Air was most likely to lose, damage, or misplace a passenger’s bags - mishandling nine (9) pieces per 1,000 handled.

American Airlines meanwhile mishandled 8.25 bags per 1,000 handled, followed by Mesa Airlines (6.54 per 1,000 handled).

This trend continues over the past three years, with Envoy Air mishandling 8.63 per 1,000 handled since 2019, followed by American Airlines (8.02 per 1,000), and Mesa Airlines (7.03 per 1,000).

Boarding not allowed
Since the start of 2019, over 732,000 (732,036) passengers have been denied boarding on their flights, with 174,964 denied access to the seats they had booked in just 2021. Results analysis showed that over the course of 2021, 164,316 passengers were given the option of not boarding the flight, and 10,648 were given no such option to volunteer.

Across 2021, Southwest Airlines denied boarding to 34,355 passengers - at a rate of over 94 per day. While Delta Airlines denied the second most passengers from boarding their flights (27,417), with a rate of 75 passengers being denied their seats each day.

However, data revealed that per 10,000 passengers, in 2021, Skywest Airlines were the most likely to deny customers a seat they have booked (6.42 per 10,000 passengers), followed by Republic Airways and Endevour Air (6.21 per 10,000 passengers).

Since 2019 though, Delta Airlines (158,554) and American Airlines (154,202) have denied the most passengers from boarding - at an average rate of 144 and 140 passengers per day respectively between January 1st, 2019, and December 31st, 2021.

In the three years of data analyzed, nearly 1.8 billion passengers were reported to have boarded US airlines since 2019, with 4.14 out of every 10,000 having been denied boarding. During this time, Endevour Airlines were found to be the most likely to turn away passengers (11.09 out of every 10,000 passengers booked with them), followed by Skywest Airlines (9.38 out of every 10,000 passengers booked with them).

Baggage is extra
In 2021, airlines in the U.S. made an estimated nearly $4.3 billion in baggage fees - with reported earnings up to June 2021 over $2.1 billion, with major U.S. airlines estimated to have made a combined $12.7 billion since 2019 in baggage fees.

Data showed that in the first six months of 2021 (to June 2021), American Airlines reported $520,303,000 in revenue from baggage fees and suggesting that across 2021 American Airlines made over $1 billion in baggage revenue.

Delta Airlines earned the second most in baggage fees from customers in the first six months of 2021, reporting $359,924,000 in baggage revenue - with analysis estimating Delta would make a total of $719,848,000 for the year as a whole.

However, when the analysis looked at passenger numbers against estimated annual earnings, Spirit Airlines were the winner, making an average of $18.70 per passenger in baggage fees in 2021, followed by Frontier Airlines ($17.70) and Allegiant Air ($16.04).

American Airlines, despite being estimated to have earned the most in baggage fees, earn just $9.66 per passenger in baggage fees, with Delta Airlines making even less per passenger ($7.35).

Since the start of 2019, Spirit Airlines have made an average of $21.79 in baggage fees per customer, with Frontier Airlines ($19.92) and Allegiant Air ($16.79) having the second and third-best average fees per passenger earnings.

Commentary from Radical Storage
In response to the study, Giacomo Piva, CMO & Co-founder of Radical Storage comments: “For many travelers, getting on a flight is one of excitement before a vacation with friends and family, so to think that airlines have lost or not taken care of people’s property is a real shame. Especially so given that many of the 1.9 million bags mishandled last year were likely those of travelers venturing across the U.S. to see friends and family since before the pandemic put a pause on a lot of travel, and the revenues airlines are making from baggage fees.”

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