Q. Are bags checked at the curb more likely to be lost than ones taken to a counter?
A. Theoretically, both methods are equally risky. Hard statistics comparing the two have not been released, but skycaps use the same baggage coding and ramp systems as counter check-in agents. (Skycap service, though, comes with a price: it's customary to tip $2 a bag.) You can see where airlines fall in the rankings of mishandled baggage by checking online with the U.S. Department of Transportation. In 2006, Delta Airlines affiliate Atlantic Southeast was number one, logging 17.64 complaints for every 1,000 customers.
Thankfully, airlines are upgrading to more accurate radio-frequency ID tags, a move that Las Vegas's MacCarran International Airport credits for 10 percent fewer lost bags per year.
Above all, take comfort in this: 98% of lost bags are returned within five days.