When it comes to mishandling your checked baggage, this airline is the worst

Extensive 2019 data reveals airlines really do differ when it comes to handling your checked bags.
Not all airlines are created equal when it comes to delivering your baggage.

Going on a golf trip only to be the last empty-handed soul at the baggage claim with no sign of your sticks is a horrible feeling. And not all airlines are created equal when it comes to avoiding these nightmare scenarios.

The U.S. Department of Transportation just released their latest air travel report, which includes their full 2019 data on such travel nuisances as mishandled baggage, delays and oversold flights. If you are a frequent flyer, these reports are absolutely worth geeking out on and may dispel some preconceived notions you had about certain carriers.

We golfers want to know which airlines will take the best (and worst) care of our own precious cargo.

First, let's applaud the (surprising!) winners. The best major U.S. carrier is Allegiant Air with just 1.75 bags mishandled per 1000. That is pretty impressive and leads the pack by a solid margin. They fly to plenty of big-time golf destinations like Myrtle Beach, Ft. Lauderdale, Honolulu and San Diego. In second is another low-cost carrier: Frontier, at 4.20/1000.

In terms of the major U.S. carriers, Southwest is hands-down the best. They handle the most checked bags (no surprise since the first two remain free) and keep their rate very close to the regional discount carriers that handle far fewer annually.

The worst airline for handling checked luggage

In 2019, it was American Airlines. They were second to Southwest in total bags enplaned (119,659,117) and mishandled just over 1 million bags for a rate of 8.48/1000.

Infogram

Only the small Envoy Air had a worse rate than American at 9.53/1000, and they are a large regional carrier for American. Not too far in front of them was United Airlines with a disappointing 6.80/1000 rate.

According to a Fox Business article, American Airlines partially blames their unions for their poor 2019 performance. They also cite the grounding of the new Boeing 737 Max as hurdles to better bag delivery.

It is surprising the budget airlines like Frontier and Allegiant are in many ways performing better than the big carriers. And - color me shocked - Spirit Airlines performs pretty admirably with a mishandling rate just behind Delta.

As reward programs have consolidated and grown more diluted, I'm more loyal to direct flights than any single airline. But I fly a lot of Southwest because not only do they offer the most direct flights out of my home airport, you can check two bags free and they are great with families. I also appreciate that they offer fewer fare classes; I've had a hard time deciphering what basic economy-type fare classes get you depending on the airline, especially since they are prone to change.

As for the other major carriers, I have enjoyed recent app innovations from Delta, whose mobile app will send you push notifications about the status of your checked bags. I've had some tight connections, and the alert to my phone that my clubs in fact made it onto the plane is a fabulous feeling.

Is the mobile app feature worth the $30 they and most other carriers charge these days to check your first bag? It's still tough to stomach that fee. That's why Southwest is still the golfer's airline unless you have a credit card that gets you a free checked bag, or you are a larger human than I and prefer a premium economy seat.

So, how can you put the baggage odds in your favor? The obvious start is to fly direct as often as possible. Also, pay attention to the type and size of aircraft you'll be flying. When flying smaller, regional aircraft, if the plane is too heavy, large suitcases and golf clubs are usually the first thing to be offloaded. This is well known at golf resorts near small airports like Bandon Dunes, who handle a staggering number of shipped clubs every day.

One other curious nugget in the data is that codeshare partners in some cases have higher rates of mishandled bags. It's most notable with Hawaiian Airlines, whose codeshare partners have the highest rate (10.16/1000) of any airline listed.

Alternatives to flying with your golf clubs: Shipping or renting

I typically only fly with my clubs if I know there will be two or more 18-hole rounds on my trip. Otherwise it's too much of a hassle.

One alternative to shipping is club rental. But the price and quality of the rentals at the golf course or resort can vary greatly. They could be brand new and included in the green fee or sketchy and $100. Another option is third-party ClubHub, which has straightforward pricing of $69 for the first round, $20 per day after, shipping included. You can also select exactly what model you want, and they may even have the exact same set you have at home. Or if you're in the market for new clubs, you can use it to start the auditioning process. We've partnered with ClubHub to offer our readers an exclusive %15 off your next rental. Just use Golf-15 at checkout.

I've shipped my clubs ahead of times a few times over the years with ShipSticks - in particular when I squeezed golf into a family vacation where I had no free hands in transit - and have had good results. Shipsticks and Luggage Forward will generate quotes for you. They use bulk bargaining tactics with companies like UPS and FedEx, so your quote from them should be lower than going to the shippers direct. Ground domestic shipping usually starts around $39 each way, so it's pricier than flying with them, but consider it a premium service.

Have you had any bad luggage luck with a particular airline or airport? Let us know in the comments below!

5 Min Read
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It's a golfer's nightmare: arriving at the baggage claim and your clubs never come out. Jason Scott Deegan has details on what you're entitled to from the airlines.

Brandon Tucker is the Sr. Managing Editor for GolfPass and was the founding editor of Golf Advisor in 2014, he was the managing editor for Golf Channel Digital's Courses & Travel. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and nearly 600 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonTucker and on Instagram at @btuck34.
27 Comments
Commented on

In all the years of flying to & from golf destinations I've only ever had one travel bag damaged. Returning from Riyadh to Canada, British Airways ripped the entire side out of my golf travel bag. Spent an hour with their onsite customer service rep at Heathrow & was compensated on the spot with a hefty new travel bag & £50 cash.

Four years ago flying WestJet from YEG to PSP my bag was mistakenly picked up by another customer who had the exact same golf travel bag as myself. With the help of WestJet customer service at PSP, I was able to find out who picked up my clubs. The guy just happened to play out of the Lac La Biche GC in Alberta (a course I play yearly) so a quick phone call to the Lac La Biche golf superintendent & I got the guys cell number. Still made my tee time but played with the other guys clubs & then met up afterwards to exchange bags & clubs.

My upcoming cross border trip to CA next month has me flying with United, the second worst (6.8/1000 rate) offender on your list.

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Commented on

I’m way more concerned about TSA than any airline. Open your bags, rearrange your clubs (often!) and couldn’t care less about your careful protective packing. Take your club heads off, pack as best you can and keep your fingers crossed.

Commented on

I started taking me and my wife’s driver through hybrid heads off and putting them inside the head covers. Then I store them inside my golf bag before I load them into the travel bag. It protects the heads and shafts from being damaged and it also makes my bag fit better into the travel case. I also put my putter in the center somewhere rather than the putter well. If you have ever watched them throw our bags around and pile other bags onto them, it will freak you out wondering how they ever avoid getting damaged.

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Commented on

I am a teaching professional in the Northeast and American Airlines is HORRIBLE out of SKY Harbour in Phoenix!!! They dented my staff bag (twice) to the point it would not stand up and I had to stop using it. The base was lopsided so the bag would fall over. They refused to acknowledge any wrongdoing both times!!! # Flyswa

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Commented on

I have travelled round the world with my clubs and did not encounter a problem until travelling back from Dubai when the shaft of my wife's driver was broken. the airline refused compensation.
Emirates’ conditions of carriage say they will refuse to carry fragile items so how can they say a golf club, an item in checked baggage, is a fragile item? In addition, the Montreal Convention governing international air travel which overrides an airline’s conditions and, which is part of UK and UAE law, says an airline is liable to pay compensation for damage to checked baggage unless the damage “resulted from the inherent defect, quality or vice of the baggage”; in the context of our claim “vice “means the unfitness of the goods being carried to withstand the normal incidents of the trip, given the degree of care reasonably expected of the carrier. Given my own experience and that of friends who have flown with golf clubs, which have remained undamaged in transit by air, the fact that airlines willingly carry golf clubs without comment, often charging extra for the privilege, and a golf club shaft is fairly robust and only likely to break if subject to a high degree of force, I am sure damage of the kind which we experienced would not be held by a court to be due to fragility or ”vice”. In law a carrier has to take due care to protect goods which it carries including due care to protect goods from damage arising from their inherent characteristics.

They eventually paid up.

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Commented on

I disagree with Allegiant being one of the best airline for handling golf bags. My friends and I have traveled from Bellingham to Las Vegas once a year for about 7 years to golf. Another group and I have traveled to Las Vegas for the CES Conference using Allegiant from time to time.
On one occasion 3 years ago I had my driver head broken off. I didn't realize it until I got on the course next day. I didn't pursue Allegiant for the damage as I signed a waiver as I was using a soft bag.
Last November, one wheel was ripped out of the bag. The waiver I had signed was for any damage to my clubs inside the bag. I had filed a damage report at the airport with pictures showing that the damage was on the outside of the bag. The report was sent to the "System Baggage Services". A few days later I received an email denying my claim.

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Commented on

Trip to French Lick, Ind. driver head broken on SWA, golf glove with support stiff stick, no recourse, had to buy a new driver. Trip to Bandon,United AL first class, 3 wood head packaged in shoe for protection stolen, United was good paid for new 3 wood and shoes. other wise probably 25 golf trips all over US and Scotland , no issues. Sadly airlines are not very careful with clubs.

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Commented on

I quit flying Southwest. Yes, two bags free. But we went to Jamaica on a December golf trip and although I purchased my flights in May, less than one week before we left on out trip I got an email to get ready for my trip. In small print, I could have missed, it said there was a luggage embargo to Jamaica and we were not allowed to bring our clubs. I called SW and they said there was nothing they could do, it was a government edict. This turned out to be a lie, research shows that SW does this almost every year from before Thanksgiving to after the first of the year. They do it to 4 or 5 destinations. Their suggestion when I asked how I was going to save my golf vacation was to tell me to rent clubs. No offers to help, provide compensation, anything. It cost my wife and I $450 to rent clubs for our golf trip. We flew Delta again in December of 2019 and had no issues. I won't ever fly Southwest again. If you fly them, make sure they are not going to run in to a problem taking your clubs. Much more to this, but suffice to say that no other airline has this embargo to Jamaica or the other destinations. Southwest lied and tried to blame it on the government. They never would say which government. Shame on Southwest. They lost many customers over this.

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Commented on

Checked my clubs RT from SJC to MCI. No problem getting them there but on the return United managed to snap the driver head off the shaft right at the hosel. Initially they were not willing to do anything - but I’ve flown over a 1M miles with them. So they finally comped my 25,000 air miles (= to one RT). But that took about an hour of negotiating.

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Commented on

I go to Cobo twice a year, via Alaska and they do a great job. If you have an Alaska Credit card, clubs fly free. ("they normally arrive before I do since they are in the front cargo area of the p;lane and I'm siting in the back.")

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When it comes to mishandling your checked baggage, this airline is the worst