Delayed-Baggage Trends and Options for Compensating Passengers

GAO-12-804R: Published: Jun 14, 2012. Publicly Released: Jun 14, 2012.

Additional Materials:


Gerald Dillingham, Ph.D.
(202) 512-2834


Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800

What GAO Found

In summary, we found that DOT’s data do not distinguish between delayed baggage and other types of mishandled baggage, such as those that are lost, damaged, or pilfered. DOT includes all of these types of occurrences in its definition of “mishandled baggage.” Using DOT’s data, we found that the number of mishandled-baggage reports has decreased since 2008, when airlines first began charging for the first checked bag. There are a number of factors that could contribute to this decline in the number of mishandled-baggage reports, such as a decline in the number of bags checked and improved baggage handling processes. However, because of limitations to DOT’s baggage data, an assessment of baggage delays—a subcategory of mishandled baggage—cannot be conducted. DOT has proposed a change to airline-reporting requirements designed to improve its ability to measure airline performance regarding mishandled bags, but the change would not distinguish among the types of mishandled baggage (lost, delayed, damaged, or pilfered).

Why GAO Did This Study

This letter formally responds to Section 407 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, which directs the Comptroller General to (1) examine delays in the delivery of checked baggage to passengers of air carriers and (2) assess the options for and examine the impact of establishing minimum standards to compensate a passenger in the case of an unreasonable delay in the delivery of checked baggage. To conduct this work, we interviewed officials from the Department of Transportation (DOT) and representatives of airline and consumer organizations, analyzed DOT mishandled-baggage data for January 2004 through March 2012, and reviewed pertinent DOT regulations and proposed rules relating to delayed baggage. Our focus was limited to domestic air transportation. To assess the reliability of DOT’s mishandled-baggage data we interviewed officials in DOT’s Office of the Secretary and the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, reviewed DOT’s data collection and quality control procedures, and reviewed information collected from prior GAO reports. We determined that these data were sufficiently reliable for presenting the numbers of mishandled-baggage reports filed by passengers over the time period of our analysis. We conducted this performance audit from March 2012 through June 2012 in accordance with generally accepted government-auditing standards. Those standards require that we plan and perform the audit to obtain sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives. We believe that the evidence obtained provides a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives.

We also describe three options for compensating passengers for delayed and other types of mishandled baggage and the impact of implementing new minimum compensation standards. The options are for DOT to (1) keep current regulations, which, among other things, require compensation for reasonable expenses that result because of delay in the delivery of baggage, (2) reimburse passengers for the checked baggage fee if the bag is delayed, or (3) implement compensation standards based on the length of delay. We note that implementing minimum compensation standards could provide transparency and consistency among the airlines, but would require an administrative structure and entail costs that are likely to be passed on to passengers.

What GAO Recommends

We are not making any recommendations for congressional consideration or agency action.

For more information, contact Gerald L. Dillingham at (202) 512-2834 or

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