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Lost luggage: Help is at hand

By CNN's Nick Easen

After a few years, some airlines sell your unclaimed luggage at auction
After a few years, some airlines sell your unclaimed luggage at auction

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• Interactive: Have you ever lost your luggage? Have your say.  

LONDON, England (CNN) -- Ever taken a flight to Tel Aviv only to find out your suitcase has ended up in Prague? It happened recently. (Full story)

Lost luggage is one of air travellers' worst fears.

But help is now at hand on the Web. For the first time, statistics are now regularly available on European airlines most likely to misplace luggage.

The most reliable operator, according to the Association of European Airlines (AEA), is Turkish Airlines, which only lost one piece of luggage per 1,000 passenger journeys.

But according to the AEA, the airline most likely to lose your bags is Luxair, the Luxembourg carrier, which lost 21.9 bags in 1,000 journeys.

The data, which includes statistics on 23 member airlines, will be published monthly, with the next installment due on May 28.

"We set up the consumer report as part of the move towards transparency, consumer information and protection," says David Henderson, Information Manager at AEA.

Other airlines that rank poorly in the AEA survey include Swiss International Airlies, mislaying 21.1 items of luggage for every 1,000 passengers flown, and Air France losing 16.8 bags per 1,000 customers. (More figures)

On average, 85 percent of the missing bags are actually traced and delivered to the passenger within 48 hours.

The AEA statistics also show that airlines that carry mostly point-to-point travellers appear to fare better than the larger hub-based carriers. Enormous luggage volumes, short transfer times with delays are often cited as problems faced at hubs.

In the U.S., the Department of Transport already produces similar data, and with the AEA following suit they believe that travellers can make a more informed choice about which airline to take.

But the figures should be used with caution.

"They are not comparable to other statistics out there, they have specific definition and scope, " says Dario Spila, a research analyst at AEA.

"The real problem you have is that not all European carriers are members of AEA," says Peter Miller, Marketing Director at Skytax a company that appraises airlines with a global travel panel of 15,000 members.

Europe's budget airlines are not members of the association and are not included in the lost luggage statistics.

According to the AEA, they have been systematically misusing the data to rubbish the major network airlines.

"Of course the budget airlines are not accountable. If they have a bad month they simply keep quiet about it," says Henderson.

Asia fares no better according to a report by the Sydney-based Centre For Asia Pacific Aviation, Asia-Pacific airlines lose a passenger's bag every 90 seconds, costing carriers in the region $125 million each year.

Where can you find your luggage?

And where does your lost luggage go?

In London, luggage and personal effects left in airports and on aeroplanes are firstly kept for several years by the airlines waiting for them to be claimed.

After a probation period, the remaining goods are shipped off to an auctioneer such as Greasby's Auction Rooms in south London.

Their Web site features mobile phones, travel guides, cameras and laptops all to be sold in lots.

"We sell the lost luggage on behalf of the airlines and take our commission for handling their goods," says Jayde Spencer at Greasby's.

So if you loose your luggage on an European airline at the bottom of the AEA table then you might be able to buy it back at auction after a few years.

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