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Re: Checked Bags Getting Lost in European Travel- How common this year?

Going to Lithuania and Poland for several weeks in May on a family heritage trip, and will be meeting a Polish cousin for the first time. We'll travel independently in bigger cities, and use guides from a well regarded Poland based genealogy company to go to my ancestors' villages. While I'm a light packer, we had planned to check a small to medium bag (complete with an Apple Air Tag) with gifts for my cousin and our genealogical guides (who take us to the ancestral villages), then using the bag for souvenirs and gifts for the family and friends when we come home. We will have two hours or more during all of our layovers at connection points.

Spoke with a neighbor who's heading to France in April, and she told us she heard Rick Steves strongly advises against checking a bag, especially this year. She said he said they're getting lost all over the place. I'm now wondering if we should mail the gifts to our guides, and then mail souvenirs/gifts home.

Is the risk of lost bags really that high this year in Europe? Suggestions please from recent travelers. TIA

Posted by
2147 posts

I traveled to France twice last year and to Argentine and Chile this year and had no issues with checked luggage. I used an Air Tag and the airlines tracker (Delta and American Airlines). Now that I’ve said that, they’ll probably lose it on my next trip…. Only time a bag was “lost” recently (2016) was from Amsterdam to Zurich. It caught up with me the next day.

Posted by
124 posts

I don't have data on lost bags, but I do have a common sense observation. When Rick Steves says be careful, he is saying this to people who might be going from city to city, meaning their stuff being even a day late can be disastrous. If you're going to be back near that airport at some point in your trip, then it's not the end of the world if the bags come in late, right? And you'll buy travel insurance to recover the value if things are completely lost, right?

So to me, you're fine checking bags in a scenario like that because nothing goes wrong if the bags are delayed or even lost. You're accepting the risk and hoping for the best.

Posted by
1259 posts

Not like last year but bags can be lost for a long list of reasons, including someone taking yours off the carousel. Luggage arrival is a binary event. I go carryon-only because I prefer to keep track of my stuff and I pack less. Pretty much up to you.

Posted by
1412 posts

I’m afraid this is a case of applying what was true for some airports in some countries in Europe last year to European travel in all countries this year. No, luggage isn’t getting lost all over the place this year. Some airports in Europe had issues with luggage getting delayed last year, due to the huge increase in passenger volumes after COVID. This caused some issues at some airports. But it wasn’t a Europe wide issue then and it certainly isn’t a Europe wide issue now.

Posted by
18739 posts

Mishandled Baggage https://www.bts.gov/newsroom/air-travel-consumer-report-january-2023-numbers

In January 2023, reporting marketing carriers handled 36.6 million bags and posted a mishandled baggage rate of 0.73%, lower than both the December 2022 rate of 1.09% and the January 2022 rate of 0.81%.

Prior to COVID the rate had remained pretty stable for a number of years at 0.5% to 0.6%.

Mishandled includes, lost, stolen and damaged bags.

So its still a little worse than the past, but seems to be getting better.

Posted by
4325 posts

Mister E has given you the best overall answer to your question.

But in my personal random sample of 1 (me), I have checked a bag at least 22 times over the last 12 months, and only twice did it not fly with me. And both of those times it arrived 24 hours later. Yes, the summer of 2022 wasn’t great for luggage but things have mostly evened out.

Posted by
523 posts

I think people are overly concerned about lost luggage. Millions upon millions of bags are checked and only a tiny fraction don’t arrive with the passenger. Of course, if it happens to you, it’s a pain, but the likelihood is pretty small.

I am 71 years old and have flown since I was a teenage, virtually always checking a bag (even though it’s usually carry-on size - I hate dragging it around the airport and trying to lift it over my head). In all that time, I have only had one piece of lost luggage. That was about 50 years ago.

Posted by
150 posts

We rarely check bags because we want to exit the airport as fast as possible to start moving on foot and exploring our destination.

Posted by
4586 posts

Realize that Rick is anti-check-bag in general, and always has been. He is quite content to travel with a backpack; if that doesn't work for you, don't do it and don't worry about it.

Everyone has a lost bag story, but they are quite rare. Minimize the risk by taking direct/nonstops whenever possible, and don't put anything in the bag you can't live without.

Posted by
922 posts

Everyone has a lost bag story, but they are quite rare

In close to 50 years of flying, I have never had a "lost" bag, but I recall maybe 2 delayed bags that were delivered to me the next day. Both of those delayed bags were on the return trip home which is at least less inconvenient than on the outbound leg of a trip.

I am more concerned about being forced by the airline to gate check a bag I intended to carry on and having to shift items around (medicines, laptop, etc) last minute. With the rules and differences in enforcement depending on the airline, especially on many foreign carriers, I limit the size of the bag to be in strict compliance.

Posted by
18739 posts

I am more concerned about being forced by the airline to gate check a
bag I intended to carry on and having to shift items around
(medicines, laptop, etc) last minute.

You put that stuff in the personal item which they"never" take if its compliant. I know, never, never exists.

A few weeks ago I was on Tarom Airlines. I checked their website and I was well under the size and weight. I got gate checked. The plane that showed up was a tiny commuter plane and even a legal bag wasn't going to fit. Came down the steps after the flight and an agent handed it back to me. No problem. Still beat waiting at a conveyor belt. A quick Uber call, and 40 minutes later I was in a bar.

I think people are overly concerned about lost luggage. Millions upon
millions of bags are checked and only a tiny fraction don’t arrive
with the passenger. Of course, if it happens to you, it’s a pain, but
the likelihood is pretty small.

Its just under 1%, so, 1% of a 200 seat plane is two bags lost or damaged (if every seat checked one bag). Having said that, I dont think its worth worrying about either.

Posted by
14244 posts

"I’m afraid this is a case of applying what was true for some airports in some countries in Europe last year to European travel in all countries this year. No, luggage isn’t getting lost all over the place this year. Some airports in Europe had issues with luggage getting delayed last year, due to the huge increase in passenger volumes after COVID. This caused some issues at some airports. But it wasn’t a Europe wide issue then and it certainly isn’t a Europe wide issue now."

I am going to agree with DutchTraveler. At present I think this is behind doing carry-on for many people whether they have traveled since Covid or not. I did wind up carrying on last Fall as I was transiting thru Paris to Italy and didn't want to have any issues.

Personally, I'm carrying on for my trip in a couple of weeks. I'm starting in Amsterdam and will only be there 3 nights,then on to Paris. IF I were going straight to Paris and staying there for 10 days or so I'd probably risk checking a bag. However, now that I have a very light bag and can pack so I can lift it overhead, I'll just keep it with me.

At this point in the travel year, no one really knows what will happen this summer. I think Amsterdam Schiphol and London Heathrow didn't melt down until at least a few weeks in to summer last year. If you are going in May you will be ahead of the curve for the bulk of summer travelers. I'd hedge my bets though and cross-pack with others who are going with you if you do decide to check.

Posted by
3621 posts

I’m going to diss the great man and agree with phred. RS has always had a bias against checking bags. I don’t think he considers that some of his audience can no longer lift a suitcase up to the overhead bin or get it down. Also, I think the notion that waiting for luggage to come out from the hold of the plane is too time-consuming is flat out silly. By the time we make the trek from the plane, use the facilities, and clear immigration, the wait is usually quite short.
Now I’m going to stick my neck out. Allowing that everyone is different, I,personally, like to be clean and to look nice. I can manage that with a checked 20” or 21” bag and a carry-on. I also don’t buy the notion that you can buy anything you didn’t pack. Maybe or not. Maybe you can, but it’s 10 x the price that it is here, otc meds, for example. Or, you have to spend a lot of time figuring out where to find it. To those who are fine with a lot of sink washing, or chancing that their single pair of shoes will suffer no mishap, or that there is just one pharmacy open on Sunday and it’s in the next town, I say, (as my mother would have said, with a slightly sarcastic intonation) go in good health.

Posted by
18739 posts

Rosalyn; you aren't sticking your neck out; you are correct. At least I think so to a large degree. Where we might agree 100% is that check vs carry on should be about need, not some sort of ideological mantra. If I am going to the Opera, I will end up with a checked bag. 50/50 chance I will in the winter too because like you, I like to dress well; or at least have the option to. As for buying things when you get there, where i travel they are cheaper where I go than in the US and I sort of enjoy the experience of a foreign store; but that totally personal.

But when I can do it with carry on only, without compromise, then I do enjoy walking past the check-in counter and going straight to the gate; and not having to wait for my luggage (which with my lousy experience has been 5 minutes to 35 minutes). But I do it happily when the situation requires it. It's a holiday for G-d sakes and i rule it, not RS. LOL.

What other people do is great too. Each to their own, the main thing is they enjoy it; and no, no one know that they would enjoy it more it they did it a different way.