Airlines Improve at Handling Bags

By David Koenig, AP Airlines Writer

DALLAS (AP) — With fewer flights and less luggage to deliver, airlines are doing a better job handling travelers' bags.

That recent good fortune has been put to the test during the holiday travel season, as planes have been packed with passengers and bags. There are some things you can do to reduce the risk of getting separated from your luggage, and the most important ones must be done long before you get to the airport.

Flying nonstop will improve your chances of getting to your destination with your bag. If you must make a connection, allow enough time to catch the second flight. Don't be one of those people dashing through the terminal.

"If they have to run, chances are their bags aren't going to make it," says Bryan Salzburg of travel Web site

One small blessing for connecting passengers: At least you will have already gone through security, which is taking longer at many airports because of new security rules after the attempted Christmas Day bombing of a Northwest jet.

Airlines did a much better job of handling luggage this year than last year, according to the Transportation Department. The rate of complaints about lost, damaged, delayed or stolen bags was down 26% through October, compared with the same 10 months in 2008.

It helps that airlines are handling fewer bags, because traffic is down and passengers are trying to avoid fees on checked luggage. For the year ended Sept. 30, the number of checked bags on U.S. carriers fell 20% from the year before, to about 540 million, according to the Transportation Security Administration.

Bags still get lost, and the same airlines tend to wind up at the bottom of government rankings for baggage handling, month after month.

Through October, passengers on American Eagle and Atlantic Southeast Airlines were four times more likely to have baggage problems than travelers on AirTran or Hawaiian Airlines.