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Airline employees share 10 tips to minimize the risk of losing your luggage during this summer’s flight chaos

According to the most recent air travel consumer report from the Department of Transportation, US airlines mishandled 0.55% of bags checked in April, compared to 0.33% during the same time period last year.

Paul Ellis/AFP via Getty Images

  • Insider spoke with two employees in the baggage departments at the Toronto and Vancouver airports.
  • They shared 10 tips for preventing lost luggage amid this summer’s flight chaos. 
  • Self-checking, staff shortages, and outsourcing are all contributing to the problem, they said.

From a wedding dress to the ashes of a loved ones, travelers are sharing lost luggage horror stories as thousands of flights are canceled and delayed around the world. 

Two employees at WestJet and Air Canada who handle hundreds of bags each day shared the inside scoop of what they believe is behind the surge in mishandled baggage, and how passengers can avoid getting caught up in the nerve-racking trend.  

Both employees spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to protect their careers, but their employment has been verified by Insider. Air Canada did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment. 

According to the most recent air travel consumer report from the Department of Transportation, US airlines mishandled 0.55% of bags checked in April, compared to 0.33% during the same time period last year. While it might look like a small number, that translates to over 200,000 bags that did not make it to their final destination in time. 

But the real problem isn’t that the airline doesn’t know where the bag is, the WestJet employee told Insider — it’s that it can take weeks for a passenger to connect with an agent who has access to the correct baggage system.

Many airlines outsource various positions to third-party workers who are often unaware of what’s happening on the ground, he added.

“Every bag is scanned and tickets printed. They know where the bag is,” he said. “The problem is they can’t contact the right person to find the bag again, because we’re so understaffed. That person probably is handling hundreds of cases.”

Short-staffing also means the same ramp workers are scheduled to load multiple planes back-to-back, so if one flight gets delayed, it causes a domino effect — pushing their entire loading schedule back.

Amid the rampant delays, getting checked bags into the belly of a plane on time is like “trying to hit a moving target,” the employee told Insider.

“The use of third-party providers is common practice across our industry, and to correlate any impact guests may experience in tracing their lost or delayed baggage to them is inaccurate,” a WestJet spokesperson said in a statement shared with Insider. 

“Regarding our airport operations, we have invested in additional oversight roles to support ramp operations at our busiest airports and are currently in the strongest staffing position we have seen since the onset of the pandemic. In addition, to further support our operations, we continue to actively recruit for various positions across our organization,” they added. 

While passengers can’t control these internal issues, here are a few ways to minimize the risk of losing your checked luggage this summer, according to airline workers themselves. 

Here are 10 tips to avoid losing your bag this summer

Left, a picture of Air Canada passenger Frédéric Harper's AirTag data. Right, an AirTag attached to a backpack.AirTags have become increasingly useful in tracking lost luggage.

Frédéric Harper/Getty Images

  1. Remove all old bag tags from your baggage: “It’s not a badge of honor on where you’ve been and confuses the scanners trying to direct your bag to the correct flight pier.” 
  2. Don’t overstuff your suitcase: “Heavy bags get stuck on the belts and can cause the bag to be misdirected. Baggage movement is timed between sensors and a heavy bag can get stuck easier.”
  3. Avoid checking in weird shapes, such as round bags or nap sacks with loose straps: “If unavoidable, make sure it gets sent out in a grey plastic bin or check it as a fragile.”
  4. Take those unnecessary decorative bag tags, strings, or bows that could also get caught in the system: “Don’t check in boxes and if it’s absolutely necessary don’t wrap them with rope.”
  5. Always put your name and phone number on the bag tags for identification: “Since self checking was started more bags have lost their tags due to improper placement.”
  6. If you have a carry-on, be one of the first in line: “They only allow so many checkin bags onboard, after which all bags over get checked below.”
  7. Don’t put any valuables in your checked bag
  8. Always pack an extra set of clothes in your carry-on.
  9. Put a tracking device like an AirTag on your luggage so you don’t have to wait for an agent to tell you where it is. 
  10. If you’re self-checking your luggage (attaching the tag yourself at a kiosk), make sure it’s attached to the bag’s handle correctly or ask for help. 

Are you an airline or airport worker? Have a tip or story to share? Contact this reporter from a non-work email address at [email protected]

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