In 2006, 6.5 bags per every 1,000 U.S. passengers were mishandled, according to the most recent Airline Quality Rating report. That's an increase of 2.5 percent since 2003, the report showed.
So where do your bags go once they're tagged at the ticket counter, and why don't they always arrive with you?
Ken Hinkle, a station manager for Atlantic Southeast Airlines at Augusta Regional Airport, said there are many reasons why a passenger's bag is lost or delayed. Mr. Hinkle said sometimes luggage isn't loaded properly at the passenger's departing airport and is sent to the wrong destination. Other times, it may be placed on the wrong carousel during a transfer at another airport, such as Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, and misses the connecting flight.
"The airline will continue to search for your bag, but for the most part if you haven't got your bag after three days then the airline considers it lost or stolen," Mr. Hinkle said. "We have you fill out a form, and we send it to our corporate office."
He also noted that baggage and passengers on small commuter flights, like those out of Augusta Regional Airport, might be removed if the plane is overloaded.
"Basically what they will do is put the bag on the next flight and it'll get to the destination on a later flight," he said.
The global airline industry mishandles about 30 million bags annually at a cost of $2.5 billion a year, according to a recent report by SITA, a technology provider for the airline industry. In 2005, the main reason for delays in passenger baggage was mishandling during a transfer, 61 percent of the time.
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STICK WITH YOUR BAG
Airport officials say it's often by chance that a passenger's bag is lost or delayed, but there are ways to prevent either or ensure you get your bag back.
ARRIVE EARLY: Show up at least an hour before departure. Ken Hinkle, a station manager for Atlantic Southeast Airlines in Augusta, said the earlier you are, the more likely your bag will be one of the first to be loaded on the plane. This means your bag will be less likely to be removed from the flight if problems arise because of weight restrictions.
VERIFY THE DESTINATION: Make sure the ticket agent put the correct destination on the tag. Ask the agent if you can examine the ticket before it's sent away on the conveyor. Remove tags from any previous trips.
USE COLORFUL ID: Attach a brightly colored identifier on the bag to distinguish it from similar ones.
HAVE EXTRA ID: Put a copy of your name, destination and contact information somewhere inside the bag in case something happens to the airline's tag.
KEEP VITAL ITEMS ON HAND: Do not put any critical items, such as medicine or a passport, in your checked luggage. Instead, pack these and other essentials in a carry-on bag.
DON'T LEAVE: Report any problems, including a lost bag, before leaving the airport. Passengers should insist that the airline fill out a form and give them a copy. Get the name and a telephone number of the agent who assists you.
ASK FOR DELIVERY: Before you leave the airport, ask the airline whether it will deliver the bag free of charge when it's found.
Sources: Ken Hinkle, station manager for ASA, Diane Johnston, Augusta Regional Airport marketing director, U.S. Department of Transportation.