US Airlines: Which Mishandle Baggage & Oversell Seats The Most

Packing and planning to fly can be stress as it is but when things go wrong and your bags go missing or your seat has been sold to someone else it can become a nightmare.

To help travellers in the US get about and understand more about the US airlines, we’ve analyzed airline data from the Department of Transportation (US), examining how frequently airlines “mishandle” passenger bags, how often passengers are not allowed to board  – often due to overselling seats, and how much airlines have earned through baggage fees since 2019.

Which Airlines Lose & Mishandle The Most Baggage?

Mishandled Baggage In 2021

Through the course of 2021, over 1.9 million items of luggage were reported to be “mishandled” by airlines, with consumers either reporting lost, stolen or damaged baggage while traveling.

Latest data, from the Air Travel Consumer Reports, revealed that American Airlines received the most reports of mishandled baggage in 2021, with over 466,000 items of baggage reported to have been lost, stolen, or damaged.

Handling over 56.5 million items of baggage in 2021, American Airlines mishandled 8.25 pieces of baggage per 1,000, between the start of January 2021 and the end of December 2021. 

Close behind American Airlines, Southwest Airlines was revealed to be the second-worst for mishandling baggage, with over 369,000 pieces of baggage reported to have been poorly looked after by consumers. 

To Southwest Airlines’ credit, over the course of 2021, Southwest handled over 99 million pieces of baggage, meaning just 3.73 pieces were mishandled per 1,000 by Southwest.

Our analysis of the Air Travel Consumer Reports, revealed that Envoy Air was the most likely to lose or damage a traveler’s baggage, losing nine (9) pieces per 1,000 handled. In real terms, Envoy Air “mishandled” 81,476 of the 9,051,406 consumers trusted them with.

Which Airlines Are Most Likely To Mishandle Your Bags?

Since 2019, Envoy Air has the highest rate of reported “mishandled” luggage, mishandling 8.63 per 1,000 pieces of baggage entrusted to them over the course of 2019, 2020, and 2021.

That stat is made somewhat more significant when data revealed that Envoy Air has handled less than 10% of the amount of baggage Southwest Airlines (26,372,701 compared to 275,512,067) has since 2019.

The second worst culprit for mishandling travelers’ bags – between 2019 and 2021- is American Airlines, which has mishandled 8.02 pieces of baggage per 1,000 they’ve been tasked with looking after and transporting.

While American Airlines might not have the highest rate of mishandled baggage since 2019, according to data in the Air Travel Consumer Reports, they have “mishandled” most by quantity.

Data analyzed showed that between January 2019 and December 2021, American Airlines mishandled 1,306,368 pieces of baggage, either through items being lost, reported stolen, or being returned to travelers damaged.

Southwest Airlines were found to have mishandled the second most pieces of baggage since 2019, “mishandled” 1,051,449 of the 275,512,067 they transited over the nearly three year period.

Most Mishandled Baggage Since 2019

AMERICAN AIRLINES626,716212,974466,678
SOUTHWEST AIRLINES534,609147,245369,595
DELTA AIR LINES386,365107,844266,374
UNITED AIRLINES322,01481,081154,068
SKYWEST AIRLINES187,52564,554121,430
ALASKA AIRLINES108,81532,654101,663
ENVOY AIR108,12238,05481,476
JETBLUE AIRWAYS75,51819,90360,282
REPUBLIC AIRWAYS72,04223,85359,304
PSA AIRLINES96,35433,12858,651
SPIRIT AIRLINES60,00626,14447,174
MESA AIRLINES85,26822,40743,214
ENDEAVOR AIR48,01118,13642,814
FRONTIER AIRLINES45,64416,02726,472
HAWAIIAN AIRLINES28,1186,32210,367
ALLEGIANT AIR11,9075,2259,395

Which Airlines Oversell Seats The Most?

While your luggage not making it to your destination can be a frustration, the practice of “overselling” seats on passenger airplanes can leave those left at the gate extremely unhappy.

To help travelers in the US have a good idea of which airlines might leave them at the airport, we’ve analyzed ‘Oversold’ data from the Air Travel Consumer Reports, to reveal which operators are most likely to not let you on board. 

Oversold Seats In 2021

In 2021, 174,964 passengers were voluntarily or involuntarily denied boarding on to the flights they had booked, due to seats on the flights being overbooked. While many (164,316) of these passengers were given the option of not boarding the flight, 10,648 were given no such option to volunteer.

Data analyzed showed that Southwest Airlines denied the most passengers in 2021, with 34,355 passengers – or over 94 per day – denied boarding on their flight. Of the over 34,000 passengers not allowed to board, 4,017 were given no option as to whether they could or could not board.

Over the course of 2021, Delta Airlines were the second most likely to turn away passengers, with 27,417 turned away at the airport. Unlike Southwest Airlines though, Delta Airlines reported that all those who were denied boarding did so voluntarily.

Overall, 2.92 per 10,000 travelers were denied boarding by US airlines, with Skywest Airlines the most likely to deny customers a seat they have booked (6.42 per 10,000 passengers), followed by Republic Airways and Endevour Air (6.21 per 10,000 passengers).

Further analysis showed that Frontier Airlines was the most likely to involuntarily deny travelers from boarding, with 9.47 per 100,000 consumers involuntarily denied boarding to their flight during 2021.

PSA Airlines (3.67) and Southwest Airlines (3.28) were the second and third most airlines to involuntarily deny passengers from boarding. 

Which Airlines Are Most Likely To Not Let You Board?

Since 2019, Delta Airlines has denied boarding to 158,554, of which 158,550 were voluntary, the most of any airline analyzed. Close behind Delta Airlines, with the second most boarding denial reported are American Airlines, where 154,202 passengers have been denied their seat – of which 11,338 were involuntarily denied boarding.

Overall, across 2019, 2020, and 2021, over 732,000 airline passengers have been denied boarding by US airlines, with 33,496 denied their seat involuntarily. 

With nearly 1.8 billion passengers reported to have boarded US airlines since 2019, 4.14 out of every 10,000 have denied boarding, primarily due to oversold seats on the flights. Endevour Airlines being the most likely to turn away passengers (11.09 out of every 10,000), followed by Skywest Airlines (9.38 out of every 10,000).

When it comes to involuntary boarding denials, Envoy Air was found to have stopped the most passengers boarding (8.50 out of every 100,000), followed by PSA Airlines (6.64 out of every 100,000).

Which Airlines Earn The Most From Luggage Fees?

As many airline passengers have become savvier, packing lightly or throwing everything they can into hand luggage, so have airlines with their policies around luggage sizes, weights, and allowances.

With many airlines now charging increasingly high fees to take luggage on board, we analyzed data from Air Travel Consumer Reports between 2019 and 2021 to reveal just how much airlines are making on average, and which airlines are making the most from luggage fees.

Airline Baggage Fees In 2021

The latest 2021 data reveals that passenger numbers for the top ten airlines were nearly double that seen in 2020 and, in turn, so were reported luggage fees.

By the end of  2021, over 513 million passengers had reportedly been enplaned by the top ten US airlines, with figures up to June 2021 revealing airlines had earned over $2.1 billion in Baggage fees. 

These figures suggest that airlines made an average of $8.35 in luggage fees, per passenger, in 2021.

Over the course of the first six months of 2021, American Airlines reported over $520,300,000 in earnings from luggage fees paid by consumers, with Delta Airlines the second biggest earners ($359,924,000).

Extrapolating these figures across the numbers of passengers reported for the whole year, our analysis found that Spirit Airlines will have earned the most luggage fees per passenger ($18.70), followed by Frontier Airline ($17.70).

While figures suggest that Spirit and Frontier will have earned the most last year in luggage fees per passenger, Southwest made $0.42 per person that flew with them.

Which Airlines Make The Most From Luggage Fees?

Between January 2019 and the end of the second quarter on 2021, the top ten airlines analyzed earned $10.6 billion in luggage fees, earning an average of $8.83* per passenger.

Our look into luggage fees revealed that airlines in 2019 earned an average of $8.06 per enplaned passenger, with this figure increasing to $10.08 in 2020, and falling back to pre-pandemic figures in 2021 $8.35.

Taking into account that current 2021 figures only cover the first half of the year, it is estimated that between the start of 2019 and end of 2021, American Airlines will have earned over $3 billion in luggage fees, making an average of $9.83 per passenger reported to have flown with them.

Just as is estimated in 2021, Delta are expected to have earnt the second most from baggage fees, earning just under $2.2 billion in fees paid on luggage.

Per passenger, Spirit Airlines is estimated to have earned an average of $21.79 from each person that flew with them, with Frontier Airlines earning the second most per passenger ($19.92).

At the other end of th table, Southwest Airlines earned the least from passengers since 2019, making an estimated average of $0.39 per person on their flights.


To reveal the airlines most likely to “mishandle” your belongings, deny you boarding, and make the most from your luggage, we analyzed data from the 2020, 2021, and 2022 Air Travel Consumer Reports published by the Department of Transportation.

To ensure data entry was fair we used the annual reports detailed in the February releases for each year. Airlines used in this analysis were listed at Operator Airlines in the reports.

To estimate the luggage fee per passenger earnings in 2021, we multiplied the earnings by two to provide an estimated total earning over the course of 2021.

When using data from this study, please provide credit and a reference to this study page

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By Giacomo Piva

Giacomo Piva, CMO and Co-founder at Radical Storage
Giacomo Piva has worked in the travel industry since 2008 across multiple niches including tourist transportation, luxury travel, and ecotourism. He now focuses on growing the global luggage network, Radical Storage, which is currently available in over 500 cities, in the likes of London, Paris, New York, and Rio de Janeiro.
Giacomo has a bachelor's degree in Communication Science and an in-depth experience across travel marketing, especially in improving a brand’s digital presence within the industry.