SITA, a network of airlines, airports, freight companies and computer reservation systems, said that 10 million fewer checked-in bags were mishandled in 2008 than the year before and estimated that the improvement saved airlines USD$800 million over the year.
New fees to encourage passengers to travel with fewer and lighter baggage have also reduced the number of bags being loaded onto the wrong flights and conveyer belts, according to the Societe Internationale de Telecommunications Aeronautiques (SITA).
"Lower weight means less fuel burned and fewer bags mean speedier aircraft turnaround times and less compensation paid for mishandled and lost bags," it said.
Only 736,000 of the nearly 33 million bags that were mishandled last year were never found, and labelled lost or stolen, according to a report from SITA which has 550 members worldwide.
Most of the rest of the bags that went missing were reunited with their owners within 48 hours. The overall mishandling rate last year was 14.3 bags per 1,000 passengers worldwide, compared to 18.9 bags per 1,000 in 2007.
SITA said the economic downturn that has hit both passenger and cargo traffic, especially in Asia, has also eased strains on airlines and airports that had been working at full capacity.
"The apparent reduction in the number of bags being checked-in and lower volumes of passenger traffic reported towards the end of 2008 have relieved the pressure on airport infrastructure including baggage handling systems," its report said.
Consumer groups have baulked at the fees that major carriers have begun charging passengers to check-in bags, alongside other extra charges for optional goods and services such as drinks, meals, and seat assignments.