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Travelers beware: These are the worst U.S. airports that lose the most baggage

There are two types of air traveler: Those who've had their luggage go missing, and those who will eventually

Flyin’ ain’t easy. Sure, modern air travel — especially long-haul flights — is a technical marvel, but it can be pretty awful, too. And, in the last three years since the pandemic, it’s only gotten worse. Ever-shrinking seats, constant COVID concerns, in-flight booze restrictions, and random air rage are all enough to make even the most patient air passengers crack under the pressure. Now, there’s one more worry to add to the mix: Lost luggage. A new report finds that there are two kinds of travelers: Those who’ve had their luggage lost and those who will eventually.

A man in a suit listening to music while hauling his luggage in the airport.
Westend61 GmbH/Alamy Stock Photo combed through an official report released last year by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Unless you’re really bored or have a strange fascination with airline industry statistics, we don’t suggest you comb through the 57-page document. But there are a few key takeaways. The first and most surprising is that a whopping 55% of air travelers have had the pleasure of an airline losing their luggage. That means your odds are better than half that, at some point in your flying career, your favorite new luggage is bound to go missing. What’s worse: Only one-third of those passengers ever see their luggage again. According to, the average wait time to get those bags back was almost a week. For most vacation travelers, that usually means being without their belongings for their entire time away.

The amount of lost luggage varies widely between air carriers and airports. American Airlines was the worst in terms of the number of bags lost but the best when it came to its overall rate of lost luggage. The top 10 worst airports in the United States for lost luggage are:

  1. Chicago O’Hare International Airport
  2. Harry Reid International Airport – Las Vegas
  3. San Diego International Airport
  4. Austin-Bergstrom International Airport – Austin, Texas
  5. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport
  6. Charlotte Douglas International Airport – Charlotte, North Carolina
  7. Los Angeles International Airport
  8. Washington Dulles International Airport – Washington, D.C.
  9. Philadelphia International Airport
  10. Tampa International Airport

It’s no surprise when you consider that these are among the busiest airports in the country. Just based on the sheer numbers, it’s also not surprising that some number of bags are going to go missing. In 2021, the Bureau of Transportation Statistics reported that airlines handled roughly 400 million bags. They lost over two million bags that same year (about 0.5%), which is actually better than their pre-COVID lost luggage rate of about 0.59%. So, at least, it’s getting a little better. That rate goes up around the holidays, of course, which is yet another reason to fly carry-on-only, if you can. Still, that means about 1-2 passengers on every flight may never see their checked bags again.

The good news is, according to Price4Limo’s survey, almost 90% of passengers said they were provided some form of compensation for their lost luggage. The average total? Around $500. Two-thirds of those surveyed said this fully compensated them, while 24% said they were only partially compensated. But nearly three-quarters of those same passengers said they lost an “irreplaceable item” with their lost luggage.

Our best tips for avoiding lost luggage are to pack everything into your best carry-on luggage whenever possible. If you must check a bag, pack essential items (medication, extra cash, high-value electronics) in your carry-on. Check your airline’s reimbursement policy, too, to see what they offer if (when) your luggage goes missing. Lastly, consider a GPS or Bluetooth tracker like an Apple AirTag (along with your other essential air travel accessories) for every piece of luggage. That way, you have a much better chance of reuniting with your things if they ever do decide to travel somewhere other than your final destination.

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Mike Richard
Mike Richard has traveled the world since 2008. He's kayaked in Antarctica, tracked endangered African wild dogs in South…
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