Baggage delayed by major European airlines increased last year, with the performance of previous-worst carrier British Airways slumping further.
BA was responsible for delaying 26.5 bags per 1,000 passengers compared to 23 in 2006, according to the Air Transport Users Council (AUC).
The UK passenger watchdog said delayed baggage could cause travellers considerable stress and they should expect to collect their bags at arrival airports, whatever the circumstances.
However, it said restrictions on passengers carrying one piece of hand luggage since August 2006 had created a “unique” problem by increasing checked-in baggage.
BA was knocked off the top slot by TAP Air Portugal, which had a delay rate of 27.8 bags compared to 21 the previous year.
KLM and Alitalia were joint third worst with 19.7, and both were worse than in 2006. Bmi, not included in previous figures, was seventh with 17.
The figures do not include Ryanair or Aer Lingus, or British airlines such as EasyJet, Flybe, Virgin Atlantic and charter operators. However, no-frills airlines have historically had low baggage delay rates because they do not operate connecting flights and tend to use smaller airports. Ryanair said its mislaid bag rate was 0.6 last month.
The AUC, which used figures from the Association of European Airlines for its report, said the average delay rate increased last year from 15.7 to 16.6.
Air Malta, whose network includes Glasgow, and Turkish Airlines were the best-performing carriers, both having a lost bag rate of just 4.5 per 1,000 passengers in 2007.
The AUC said airlines operating through hub airports such as Heathrow fared the worst last year. More than half of mislaid baggage is thought to involve connecting flights.
Tina Tietjen, the AUC’s chairman, said: “We have spoken to BA and BAA, the airport operator of Heathrow, BA’s main base, about the problems they had with baggage handling in 2007.
“We have some sympathy with the unique problems they encountered in 2007, particularly the increased levels of hold luggage as a result of the ‘one bag’ rule at UK airports throughout the year.
“But, whatever the extenuating circumstances, when passengers hand their bag in at check-in they should expect to see their bag at the other end. Complaints to the AUC show that delayed baggage can cause passengers considerable stress, inconvenience and expense.”
BA will be hoping the opening of terminal five next month will help solve its problems at Heathrow.
Gareth Kirkwood, its director of operations, said the one-bag rule and increased security after last summer’s Glasgow airport terrorist attack had not helped the baggage situation.
He went on: “We fully apologise to customers who have been affected by delayed baggage. While our performance at the vast majority of global airports remains good, we continue to experience a wide variety of difficulties at our main home at Heathrow.
A spokesman for BAA, which runs seven airports including Heathrow, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen, said: “While there is no doubt that Heathrow is running at full capacity, the baggage infrastructure we operate is very resilient and is not capacity constrained.
“Our systems are reliable and we have contingencies in place to mitigate the effect of any problems, should they occur. When terminal five opens one of the significant benefits it will bring will be much needed terminal and infrastructure capacity.
“We are committed to working with the airline community to develop innovative baggage handling solutions for Heathrow and drive performance.”