Dude, where’s my Suitcase? The Baggage Handling System Issue

Dude, where’s my Suitcase? The Baggage Handling System Issue

It’s the big baggage mystery that so many of us have experienced: they drop just two or three bags into the turning carousel at the baggage claim and that’s it for the next ten minutes. Why does this happen? (Spoiler: It’s because the Service Level Agreements require the first baggage to be on the belt shortly after landing). As the baggage handling system does its job and drops off the rest of the luggage, you search for your suitcase. As usual, it’s among the last ones, hard to recognize among all the grey and black standard colors. Once again you think of labeling yours with a colorful belt, ribbon, fabric or whatever. But then you finally see it. You lift it off the belt with great relief, heading off home, to your hotel room or wherever. Success! They pulled it off again.

But what if not? Picture yourself sitting at the baggage claim, lost and lonely late at night, seeing the screen display the status “last bag” and your baggage is nowhere in sight. It’s a sickening moment. Poor you. Instead of heading home, you head to the Lost and Found.

Millions of lost bags

It’s a common incident at our airports around the world. In 2018, almost 25 million bags were mishandled globally. But let’s look at that number. First of all, it’s 24.8 million out of 4.3 billion bags which means that more than 99% of all our luggage is handled perfectly. Additionally, since 2007 baggage mishandling has fallen by 70% and today 99.9% of mishandled bags are reunited with their owners within two days. One of the key drivers of this success is the accurate tracking and processing of information for passenger baggage. By the way, North America and Asia do much better than Europe overall. While the latter clocks up 7.29 mishandled bags per 1,000 passengers annually, it’s 2.85 in North America and just 1.77 in Asia.

Therefore, it’s safe to say that things have improved drastically on a global scale. But we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t try to make things even better, right? We just want one less thing to worry about at our next business or vacation trip. To achieve even better statistics, the baggage handling system needs to be enhanced largely. The current and future measures taken in this regard are based on IATA (International Air Transport Association) Resolution 753. This resolution on baggage tracking intends to encourage airlines to further reduce baggage mishandling by implementing cross-industry tracking for every baggage journey. It became effective on 1st June 2018, however with a certain transition period: By 2020, more than 70% of the airlines, which are members of the IATA, plan to provide “real-time bag tracking” information to passengers. They do it for more than one reason. Of course, passenger satisfaction and the performance of baggage operations are essential aspects of successful airport operations. The higher the customer satisfaction is, the more likely they will return. But that is just one point. Let’s dig a little deeper into the topic of baggage handling systems.

Save compensation costs

There is another aspect with an even greater, faster and more direct impact on the companies’ profits. It’s the compensations that need to be paid in the event of baggage loss. In 2018, the overall cost to the airline industry was more than 2 billion Euro. To break this down to a single flight: If the load of only one baggage trolley doesn’t reach the belly of its designated aircraft for whatever reason, the entire profit margin of the flight can be easily wiped out due to additional transport costs or compensation costs. Considering the low profit margins of the business, it’s easy to comprehend that airlines intensify their efforts to address this issue.

To understand their steps, we need to know what Resolution 753 exactly says. It says that airlines must track baggage at the following key points of the baggage journey: passenger handover to airline, loading to the aircraft, delivery to the transfer area and return to the passenger. These are basically the critical points of the baggage transfer at the airport. Additionally, they need to share the tracking information with their interline journey partners as needed.

To reliably close the existing gaps, these transfer points between the individual stations of the luggage transport are equipped with appropriate technology. Over the past three years, the introduction of IATA’s Resolution 753 has seen airports and airlines implement baggage handling systems to enable bag tracking. IATA members have committed themselves to prove the chain of custody with the following steps: demonstrating delivery of baggage when custody changes, demonstrating acquisition of baggage when custody changes, providing an inventory of baggage upon departure of a flight and – as mentioned above – exchanging these events with other airlines as needed.

Renewal of baggage handling systems

Today, the resolution is already having a positive impact on the passenger experience at many airports. Several airlines are launching the next generation of baggage handling systems like passenger service apps that provide push messages when a passenger’s bag has been checked and loaded, as well as providing the bag tag number and the reclaim carousel number when the passengers arrive at their destination.

Just over a year has passed (this being written in October 2019) since Resolution 753 has become effective. For airlines and airports, this should have been enough time to adapt to the new requirements, especially since they ultimately benefit from this. The 2019 statistics, to be published next year, will show if the implementation was successful …

Did a baggage handling system ever cause you trouble? Did you have to spend a vacation or a business trip without your luggage because it got lost? We’re curious about your experiences!

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