(NEXSTAR) — Traveling can be stressful — you have to plan the trip, catch the flight, and hope you don’t find yourself in a bad bout of turbulence. Even after you arrive at your destination, you may face an unexpected, and unfortunate, obstacle: damaged or lost luggage.
While frustrating, data shows it is a relatively rare event — of the roughly 115 million pieces of luggage put on a plane between November 2022 and January 2023, less than 1% was lost or damaged. Yet according to data for that same time period, some airlines mishandled luggage more than others.
A bag is considered “mishandled” if it is “lost, damaged, delayed, and pilfered, as reported by or on behalf of the passenger” while in an “airline’s custody for its reportable domestic nonstop scheduled passenger flights.”
Between those three months, all of the country’s 10 major carriers mishandled thousands of bags, according to the most recent information from the Department of Transportation’s Office of Aviation Consumer Protection.
Though Southwest enplaned the most luggage during all three months, and despite its December meltdown from scheduling glitches and winter storms, it was American Airlines passengers that were most impacted by mishandled luggage during late 2022 and into 2023.
Over the three months, American Airlines and its partners enplaned over 25 million bags. Of those, over 252,700 were reportedly mishandled, meaning roughly one in every 100 bags was lost, damaged, delayed, or stolen.
Overall, Allegiant Air had the fewest mishandled bags, as well as the second-fewest enplaned bags, of the 10 major carriers, followed by Hawaiian Airlines and Frontier Airlines.
Regardless of whether your bag has been damaged, delayed, or lost, the DOT and each airline say it’s important to report it as soon as possible. Many airlines require a claim to be filed within a certain number of hours or before you leave the airport.
Depending on what happens to your bag, you may be eligible to be reimbursed by your airline. The Transportation Department’s current regulations say airlines are required to compensate you if your luggage is damaged, delayed, or lost.
When it comes to damaged luggage on domestic flights, airlines are allowed to limit their liability in compensating you, with the maximum set at $3,800. Airlines are, however, permitted to pay more than the federal limit. On most international flights, the maximum liability is about $1,780.
If your luggage is damaged, the airline is responsible for repairing it or reimbursing you for the damages, or the contents of the bag at the time. There are, of course, caveats. If your bag was damaged before being given to the airline, or if it was damaged because you improperly packed it, the DOT says airlines aren’t responsible for repairing it or repaying you.
While standard wear and tear to your luggage can’t be considered damage, any damage to the wheels, handles, straps, or other parts of your luggage cannot be excluded from liability.
Airlines are also responsible for finding your luggage if it doesn’t arrive at your destination. You should file a baggage claim with the airline as soon as possible, the DOT advises, and stay in close contact with the airline afterward.
In the worst-case scenario where your luggage is missing, your airline has to compensate you for your bag’s contents, subject to depreciation and the maximum liability of $3,800, according to the DOT. You should also be refunded for any fees you paid to have the airline transport the bag.
While most airlines will call your luggage “lost” between 5 and 14 days after your flight, it can vary from one to another. Other factors, such as whether your flight was domestic or international, if more than one airline was responsible for the flight, and the airline’s ability to search for the luggage, can impact whether your luggage is declared lost.
An airline that “unreasonably refuses” to declare your bag lost after “an unreasonable period of time” could face federal enforcement action, according to the DOT. Consumer complaints can be filed with the DOT online.