Why Do 26 Million Checked Bags Go Missing Every Year?

In a recent blog post, we reported the widely known statistic that according to a 2012 baggage report by SITA, a company that specializes in air transport IT and communications, 99.1 percent of all checked luggage gets to its owners, in perfect condition and right on time.
But the fraction of a percentage that does go missing is worrisome, and Conde Nast Traveler wrote a great piece about why so many bags per year do go missing, especially considering the price we now pay as travelers to check bags — and the fact that the number of bags checked has decreased.
Overall, the airlines do a great job.
But there are a lot of moving parts, and as many reasons a bag might go missing or be damaged as there are plain black suitcases at baggage claim after any given flight.
The numbers for international flights are much worse; at one point, the number of bags damaged or lost in transit was growing faster than the increase in passenger load. The International Air Travel Association (IATA) stepped in to find out why that was happening and found that at Charles De Gaulle airport in France, bags from more than 150,000 passengers every day had to travel more than 60 miles of conveyer belt to get to the planes they were traveling on, with a lot of room for error.
At other airports, bags with tight connections didn’t have enough priority in getting to the right place on time, and luggage in general was stacking up on the conveyer belts, causing bottlenecks.
Day to day, the IATA finds that some issues are low-tech and relatively simple to remedy, like tags that have become unreadable from moisture, damage or detachment. An IATA official stressed the importance of passengers putting contact information both on the exterior and interior of their bags.
Still other issues are related to personnel: some airlines contract their baggage-handling work to temporary workers who make simple but critical errors like mixing up airport codes. It’s also difficult work, with long hours, heavy exposure to the elements and low pay.
There’s also the problem of theft by both security screeners and baggage handlers, and even crime rings involving smuggling drugs or stealing luxury items.
There are a lot of factors at play that could affect whether your bags end up at your final destination at the same moment you do. The best practice, of course, is still to carry on your luggage.
But if you can’t, tag your bags, keep your claim checks, be there to greet them at baggage claim and always keep your most necessary items at your side.