Airport Baggage Theft Statistics 2024 (Surprising Figures)

Airports and the way we travel by air allow for so much opportunity for people to steal.

The thief may be another fellow passenger, but they may also be an airport employee who has access to your luggage.

Every time you hand over your luggage to somebody else or lose sight of it there’s an opportunity that somebody might be willing to take.

A report from the US Department of Transportation discovered that the second most common issue passengers have—after flight problems—is mishandled luggage. Yet, there is not a lot, if any, data on what percentage of that is due to theft.

Airports often do not follow through and do not complete reports.

However, over the years, there have been some studies and research done on this topic that can give us helpful insights.

Airport Baggage Theft Statistics

Airports and Luggage Theft Statistics

  • The worst airport in the US in terms of mishandled luggage, including theft, is the John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK). The Miami International Airport (MIA) ranked second, and Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) ranked third.
  • More than 200 thefts per day happened in 2012 at the John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK)

The study done by Forbs Advisor comparing the 100 top airports in the US using the numbers provided by TSA found some interesting trends.

Between 2013 and 2022, John F. Kennedy International Airport ranked first for both property loss claims and property damage claims (1.93 and 1.48 claims per 100,000 domestic passengers, respectively).

Interestingly enough, of the top 15 worst airports, 3 are in New York.

What’s more, none of the 100 airports looked into during this period reimbursed more than 48% of the damaged or lost bag claims made by the passengers.

The Miami International Airport, JFK International Airport, and Los Angeles International Airport are also the top airports with most employees fired for stealing.

The San Francisco Police Department reported that during 2022 the theft cases at the San Francisco International Airport have almost doubled compared to 2021. The cases jumped from 67 in 2021 to 119 in 2022.

That said, the rate of reported theft cases has remained virtually the same at around 0.30 per 100,000 passengers in 2022. In comparison, it was 0.28 per 100,000 passengers in 2021.

The Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) made the news in 2022 with its unprecedented surge of luggage theft. Back in 2011, there were 97 reported cases of luggage theft, and in 2022, that number was 477, which led to a worrying discovery—the odds of your bag getting stolen was 1 in 56,000.

  • You are more likely to become the victim of a theft at a smaller airport than a large one.

Theft incidence at airports is not evenly distributed among all airports. Certain airports experience more theft cases than others. As a general rule, a smaller portion of all airports is responsible for most theft cases—a principle known as “The Iron Law of Troublesome Places”.

Generally, large and medium airports report more theft cases, which is expected due to the larger number of passengers they have. But, when the rate and likelihood of becoming a victim are calculated, small and non-hub airports take the lead.

Upon further look, we can see that larger airports tend to have tighter security in general. Many of the processes are highly automated, and more employees are working there, which can prevent potential collaboration. All of these factors can help in keeping the theft rates lower.

The travel location has been found to play a significant role in theft incidence, but not in the way one might expect.

  • Airports located in business destinations had 30.5% fewer theft cases compared to non-business locations.
  • The theft rate in the city where the airport is located has not been found to have a direct connection with the theft rate the airport experiences.

One of the suspected reasons why business locations observe less frequent theft cases is that business travelers do not bring checked luggage very often and usually stick to carry-on bags.

They may also be more experienced travelers and have a better understanding of the risks of air travel and, as a general rule, be better prepared to travel safely.

  • Risky airlines tend to have higher theft rates.

Risky airlines are considered to be also the ones with high levels of mishandled luggage.

Analysis has shown that airports that tend to have a higher number of risky airlines usually report more luggage theft.

A good example is what happened in St. Louis in 2009. Delta outsourced their bag handlers to another company. The bag handlers were later found guilty of stealing 900 items from passengers’ bags in a single year.

Airline CarrierNumber of mishandled luggage per 1000
American Airlines Network8.6
Jetblue Airways6.8
Alaska Airlines Network6.8
United Airlines Network6.3
Delta Air Lines Network5.4
Southwest Airlines5
Spirit Airlines4.8
Frontier Airlines4
Hawaiian Airlines3.1
Allegiant Air1.6


Airport Baggage Theft Locations

  • Theft from luggage occurs in parts of the airport with restricted access, while theft of luggage is most likely to happen at the luggage carousel.

According to one study, the different types of theft at airports tend to occur in different areas.

Luggage theft is most likely to occur at the baggage carousel, where thieves will wait, take a bag, and try to leave the airport.

In many cases, luggage thieves may not even be travelers but people who were able to get to the baggage claim area.

Theft from the luggage, however, requires time because the thief needs to open the bag and look for any valuables. As a result, theft from luggage usually occurs in restricted areas where the criminal can get some privacy.

After the luggage is checked in and handed off to the airport and TSA employees, there is no effective way for the passenger to guard and prevent luggage theft.

Unsurprisingly, the data suggests that theft by employees is more likely than theft by other people.


Airport Baggage Mishandling and Theft Rates

Unfortunately, one of the things that become obvious very fast is the fact that there is often no adequate data about airport theft.

Luggage theft falls into the mishandled luggage category, which also encompasses damaged, lost, and delayed bags.

On top of that, many passengers may not even report if something has been stolen from them, or they may not realize it on time or may end up assuming they have lost or misplaced it. Stolen bags may also incorrectly end up being reported as lost and vice versa.

  • According to the Air Travel Consumer Report from 2022, between January 2022 and September 2022, the number of enplaned bags mishandled was, on average, 6.1 per 1,000. Or 2,157,470 out of 351,018,646 enplaned bags were mishandled.
  • More than 20 million bags are mishandled each year.

Nearly 25 million bags were mishandled in 2018, a trend that has remained fairly consistent since 2013. About 5% of the bags were completely lost or stolen, and 18% were damaged or pilfered.

In 2022, about 26 million bags were mishandled. That amounts to approximately 1.8 million bags that were mishandled in a single year.

According to the estimates by Travelstatsman, the luggage stolen, lost, and mishandled yearly may be worth more than 1.2 billion.

The global trend of mishandled bags has remained fairly consistent, according to the data by SITA. However, in 2022, there was a drastic increase where 7.6 bags per 1,000 passengers were reported of being mishandled. That’s an increase of 74.7% over the numbers from 2021. Stolen bags accounted for approximately 7% of the mishandled bags.

In comparison, the number of mishandled bags per 1,000 passengers in 2021 and 2019 was 4.35 and 5.6, respectively.

Mishandling rates in Europe seem to be worse—nearly double the rates in North America.

  • About 28% of UK passengers had their luggage mishandled. And 2% of UK passengers lost and never recovered their bags.
Airline CarrierLuggage Complaints (2018-2022)
British Airways844
Wizz Air552
Turkish Airlines195
Virgin Atlantic182
Tap Portugal160


Most Commonly Stolen Items from Airport Luggage

  • The items most likely to get stolen at airports are electronics, clothing, jewelry, and cosmetics.

Generally, the items most likely to get stolen are valuable, concealable, removable, and disposable.


Seasonal Variation in Airport Luggage Theft

  • Airport luggage theft is more likely to occur during the winter months.

It is believed that during the winter months, people tend to bring a lot more valuable stuff with them while traveling. Those items can range from winter sports equipment, and expensive clothes, to holiday presents and expensive accessories.

What’s more, this trend applies to overall airport theft, including theft from checked bags and theft at the checkpoint.

Also, luggage and other items can be stolen from passengers while they are in the restrooms, shops, and restaurants, in waiting areas, and in many other parts of the airport.

Airport luggage theft is less likely to occur during the late summer and early autumn (August-September).

MonthTheft From Checked Bags (in %)Theft at Checkpoint (in %)


Lost Luggage Return Rate

  • About 97% of the lost luggage is recovered successfully and returned to passengers within 2 days.

The numbers from 2013 showed that it took an average of 36 hours for lost bags to be returned to their respective owners.

At that time, the number of mishandled bags globally was about 22 million or an average of 7 bags per 1,000 passengers.

About 81% of the mishandled bags in 2013 were delayed, 16% were damaged or pilfered, and just 3% were reported stolen or lost.

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Edward Clark
Edward Clark, with 15 years of hands-on experience, is a distinguished expert in smart locks and home security systems. He holds a B.S. in Computer Engineering with a focus on Cybersecurity and is a member of the Electronic Security Association (ESA). His credentials include certifications from ASIS International, IAPP, CompTIA, NTS, and CEDIA. With expertise spanning risk management, electronic security, and data privacy, he's been featured in The Guardian, Forbes, Wired, and more. Edward's mission: guiding individuals toward secure homes using the latest technologies.

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