If you are flying during the holiday season, airline statistics show that the chances of having your luggage lost, misplaced or pilfered increase as the number of passengers boarding planes goes up.
But the rate of lost luggage may not be as high as it has been in the past.
The Air Transport Assn., the trade group that represents most major airlines, predicted last week that 43.6 million people will fly on U.S. carriers during the holidays, a 3 percent increase over the same period last year.
And although more people are expected to fly in the next few weeks, statistics released last week by the Transportation Department show that over the last three years, the nation's airlines have been doing a better job of getting your bags to you at the end of your flight.
In October, the rate of lost, delayed or damaged bags for every 1,000 passengers on the nation's largest airlines was 2.91, down from 3.51 in October 2009. The rate has dropped even more compared with 2008 and 2007.
Airline critics say the rate of lost luggage is dropping because passengers are flying with fewer bags — to avoid paying expensive bag-checking fees.
As a result, they argue, the airlines' luggage-sorting systems work more efficiently.
Airline representatives, however, attribute the decline to investments made in those systems.
American Airlines, for example, upgraded its luggage-tracking system at Los Angeles International Airport a year ago and says it has since reduced the rate of lost luggage by 18 percent.
Delta Air Lines, the nation's largest carrier, invested more than $100 million in 2007 in a computerized baggage-handling system in Atlanta, the airline's largest hub and company headquarters. The system uses hand-held scanners and new conveyor belts to move and track luggage. Since 2007, the rate of lost, misplaced or damaged bags at Delta has dropped by more than half.
"Our improvement in baggage handling is attributed to the ... investment," Delta spokesman Kent Landers said.
Flier sues to get baggage fee back
The improved rates of lost luggage are no comfort to Haley Hickcox-Huffman, who filed a class-action lawsuit against US Airways last month after the airline lost her bag and refused to reimburse her $15 check-bag fee.
According to the federal suit, the airline misplaced Hickcox-Huffman's bag during a flight from Colorado Springs to San Luis Obispo. The lawsuit, filed in San Jose, said the airline breached its contract when it charged her a fee but failed to deliver the luggage at the end of the flight.
The suit seeks to force the airline to return the fees to all fee-paying passengers whose bags were misplaced, lost or damaged. US Airways declined to comment, but a representative said the company typically will refund the fees for lost, damaged or delayed bags upon request.
Actors join fray over searches
Since the Transportation Security Administration enhanced its pat-down search technique and increased the use of full-body scanners at airport security checkpoints, the loudest critics have been civil-rights activists like the ACLU and Ralph Nader.
Now Hollywood has joined the chorus of protests.
Comedian Rob Schneider complained on a podcast recently about the screening he underwent at Boston's Logan International Airport. He said he refused to go through the full-body scanners because he fears the radiation used by the machines to look through a passenger's clothes can be harmful.
"I can't believe more people are not opting out," he said.
The TSA says the radiation exposure levels are too low to threaten the health of passengers.
Meanwhile, former Playboy playmate and "Baywatch" actress Donna D'Errico said that she was angry about being singled out for a full-body scan at LAX, despite her sometimes revealing TV roles and magazine spreads.
She said the airport search was "humiliating," while the filming and photo shoots were in "controlled environments."
The TSA said it has not received a complaint from D'Errico about the incident.