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“I’ve actually seen that one play out,” he added. “They say, ‘The person that we took off checked in 32 minutes in advance. The person that we put on checked in 24 hours in advance.’”

One of the biggest improvements in the past few years is the shrinking number of mishandled bags. It dropped to 3.49 out of 1,000 bags, from 3.88 a year ago and 7.2 in 2007. Of the 16 airlines measured in the survey, 13 improved in this category, led by AirTran at 1.63. American Eagle, however, had the worst baggage mishandling rate, at 7.15.

But with fees for most checked bags and some even for carry-ons, the airlines now have a greater responsibility, Mr. Headley said.

“They got a little bit better, but they’d better be,” he said. “They’re charging you for that service now.”