July 16, 2012 at 9:51 AM ET
Our special luggage report looked into why some 26 million bags disappear each year. But which airlines lose or damage the most pieces of luggage?
Since January, the clear leader in that department has been United. It holds the worst record of all the major airlines: It mishandled between three and four bags per 1,000 passengers in April (the most recent month we have stats for) versus 0.86 bags per 1,000 for the top airline, Virgin America. That translates into nearly 20,000 bags going astray that month — far worse than last year, when United passengers filed only about 10,000 mishandled baggage reports (though take into account that United and Continental were reporting separately until January).
Since January, United has ranked No. 11 among the 15 airlines required to report their baggage handling records to the DOT; it's trailed only by commuter lines such as American Eagle, which perennially lag the larger carriers due to their high volume of connecting bags.
United spokesman Rahsaan Johnson attributed the snafus to bad weather and a higher than average number of missed connections at Newark and San Francisco. "In most instances, we were able — and are able — to deliver bags separated from their owners within several hours," he says. "Spring storms were a big challenge for us, particularly at those two airports."
But others note that United is continuing to suffer operationally in the wake of its merger with Continental. Whatever the excuse, you'll want to take the right precautions to secure your own luggage and read up on the baggage rules that airlines have to follow.
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