Lost Luggage Lately? Probably Not

Lose any luggage lately? Have you looked online?

There's a bizarre Web site called, "Is This Your Luggage?" It features pictures of supposedly "lost" bags claimed at auction -- and photos of the sometimes odd garments found inside. Personally, I think it's some sort of weird art project, but the author asks the public to contact him if anyone recognizes a bag.

But odds are, you won't recognize any of them.

And that's because chances are excellent that your bag won't get lost -- or "mishandled" as they say in the idiom of the airports. According to the Department of Transportation, the airlines are simply not losing as many bags as they used to -- and, more and more of their planes are on time -- plus, there are fewer customer complaints. Nice, huh?

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Well … not so fast. Yes, the airlines are working hard to improve these figures -- and some, like United and US Airways, are even handing out cash bonuses to employees when their statistics move the right way. However, the big reason for all the good news is -- there are fewer passengers and even fewer checked bags.

It's a no-brainer. Consider that as recently as 2007, we had 680 million-plus domestic airline passengers. But oh, what a difference a year makes. By the end of 2008, that figure was down by 30 million and the 2009 numbers are already clearly trending down further.

So there are fewer passengers -- and fewer bags. Plus, thanks to those new fees, some of us are bypassing the check-in counter altogether.

So there are fewer bags to lose, which can mean fewer reasons to complain. And face it -- when there are fewer passengers, there are fewer boarding problems and delays, and that certainly helps planes leave on time. Fewer passengers are a recipe for better statistics.

OK, but why fewer passengers? Is it simply a matter of adding a few fees, taking away some elbow room, and -- wham! -- air travelers leave in droves?

No, sir. Passengers of today are a hardy breed, and will put up with a lot, including knees jammed under their chins, $2 Diet Cokes (well, until US Airways finally saw the light), plus dwindling snacks and fees for pillows. Travelers now pay for bags and so much more. Maybe they don't pay cheerfully, but -- they pay.

Recession Means Fewer Airline Passengers

However, one thing air travelers can't seem to do is fly when the economy is in chaos. Little things like job losses and the threat of layoffs get in the way.

So what are they doing? Turning their noses up at those incredibly cheap airfare sales, for one thing. Or hitting the road -- perhaps to view those competing "world's largest balls of twine" in Darwin, Minn., and Cawker City, Kan.

Or maybe they're visiting one of the nation's newer attractions -- airline boneyards -- those eerie desert "cemeteries" crammed with the metal carcasses of Airplanes Past (the ones the carriers can no longer fill up).

Business travelers, meanwhile, are falling out of the sky and heading back on the road again, as well -- which reminds me -- you know those guys who used to be Masters of the Private Jets? Well, they're not flying so much, either -- they don't dare allow themselves to be seen within miles of a "personal luxury aircraft."

But some have discovered bus travel.

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