It's one of the nightmares of air travel: you've stepped off the plane at your final destination and are watching the checked-in luggage circle round the carousel and back out of sight. Gradually people lean over, pluck up their suitcase and shuffle away - until you're the only one left, and the carousel is empty. The airline has lost your luggage somewhere en route.
Reassuringly, this an experience you're far less likely to have today than travellers were ten years ago. Factors such as improved on-time performance, new baggage-tracking technologies, and greater liability for mistakes have driven down the proportion of luggage that is mislaid by airlines. But there's still remarkable variation between carriers on this one, as statistics from the U.S. Department of Transportation show. Drawing on these stats, we've compiled a list of the five U.S. airlines that are most likely to mislay your luggage - another factor to take into account when next choosing who to fly with.
This could be concerning for the large number of Hopper readers who travel with United: the airline is the fifth worst offender in the US when it comes to mishandling luggage. While this is certainly nothing to applaud United for, a closer look at the data reveals it's nothing to panic about, either. 3.12 United passengers out of every 1000 had problems with their luggage in September 2014, a proportion only marginally worse than that of competitor American Airlines. In fact, United has clearly been working hard on this issue, and has improved its score considerably over the past couple of years: in 2013 they lost the luggage of 3.47 passengers per 1000, and in 2012 of 3.87 passengers, a statistic that would have bumped them down to third place on this list.
Carrying more domestic passengers than any other US airline - over 10 million in September 2014 alone - Dallas-based Southwest is, in general, an admirably performing airline. In 2014, it received the second-least complaints per 1000 passengers of any US carrier, and ranked number nine in Fortune magazine's round-up of the ten most admired companies in the world. But if the company has a weak spot it's in its baggage handling, as you are more likely to lose your luggage when flying with Southwest than with any other US airline - except the three above it here.
Utah-based Skywest Airlines carried over two million passengers in September 2014, mishandling the baggage of more than 8000 of them, leaving the airline with a none-too-impressive average of 3.62 baggage errors per every 1000 passengers. Again, though, it's worth taking a moment to peek behind the statistics on this one. As well as running its own flights, Skywest also functions as a feeder airline, operating short-haul and commuter flights to 180 U.S. cities for five larger American airlines. Considering the complexity of transferring bags across so many terminals and between six different commercial entities, Skywest is not really doing so badly after all; moreover, it has improved its score dramatically since 2012, when it mishandled the luggage of 5.26 passengers per every 1000. Having taken all this into account, perhaps you shouldn't be so concerned about flying with Skywest after all.
While none of the previous airlines' records were admirable, they weren't ntably awful, either. But at this point in our round-up we take a big leap downwards. Expressjet Airlines mishandled the luggage of 4.40 passengers per every 1000 in September 2014, the kind of performance that should have the fat cats spilling their bowls of milk in the boardroom. Even worse, Expressjet also ranks among the worst airlines for late and cancelled flights.
Formerly known as Eagle Airlines, this Texas-based carrier changed its name to Envoy in 2014 - perhaps, one can't resist speculating, because of the bad rep it had acquired, coming consistently at the bottom of trusted rankings such as the Purdue/Wichita Airline Quality Rating. This generally poor performance is reflected here too: not only does Envoy come in last with a score far poorer than any other airline in this list, but it's also the only one to have got consistently worse in recent years, descending from 5.80 luggage mistakes per 1000 passengers in 2012, to 5.90 in 2013, to an atrocious 6.73 in September 2014.