Bag complaints up in U.S. after air security change


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The rate of complaints varied widely among individual airlines, according to the data submitted by the carriers for domestic flights.

Delta Air Lines' complaint rate was among the highest for the big airlines at nine per 1,000 passengers in August, up from eight a year earlier.

Southwest Airlines saw its August baggage complaints rise to over 54,000, a rate of 6.1 per 1,000 passengers from 4.4 a year earlier.

United Airlines reported a rate of 7.3 baggage complaints, up from four.

The mishandled bag rate nearly doubled at Airtran Airways to seven per 1,000 bags but fell at Northwest Airlines to 5.2 from 5.4 a year ago.

On August 10, U.S. homeland security officials banned bottled drinks and other liquids and gels from carry on luggage after authorities in London said they broke up a plot to trigger liquid explosives aboard U.S.-bound flights.

While Transportation Security Administration screeners reacted quickly to carry out the mandate without disrupting flights, passengers opted to check more bags to avoid headaches at security lines.

Homeland security officials relaxed the ban on September 25, allowing passengers to carry-on some liquids and gels, a change partly driven by strains on airlines and airports.

"We saw a 20- to 30 percent increase in the number of checked bags as a result of the security increase," said Beth Harbin, a spokeswoman for Southwest.

Harbin said Southwest brought on more baggage handlers to cope in August, the peak of the busy summer travel season. Southwest carried 8.8 million passengers on domestic flights in August, more than any other airline.

The Air Transport Association, the trade group representing major U.S. airlines, said stormy weather in August also affected flight operations, including bag handling.

However, the industry's on-time arrival rate -- which is influenced mainly by bad weather was higher after the security measures were imposed than before, government figures showed.

Megan McCarthy, a spokeswoman for United, said a sharp increase in checked luggage was seen across its network in August but United did not hire new workers in response. She said the airline shifted schedules and changed bag processing routines.

"Each airport is different in how bags get to the aircraft," McCarthy said.

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