Airlines mishandle over 23 million bags per year

You’ve landed. Finally. You groggily follow the signs for Baggage Reclaim and eventually after what seems like a lifetime of revolving doors, you reach your carousel. Fantastic! – You’re one of the first there. You’ll be out of here in no time. You were at the front of the queue at check-in and you’re sure that means your luggage will be among the first to be released – that’s how it works, right? But with each unfamiliar bag that makes its way round the conveyer, you grow more and more anxious. People begin to leave, suitcases stacked high on their trolleys; meanwhile you are sheepishly replacing yet another bag that you have mistaken for your own. Just two bags left on the conveyer now. They pass you three, four, five more times. Still no sign of yours. You walk over to the dispenser tunnel and peer in optimistically, praying for a glimpse of that red-and-white-polka-dot ribbon you had smugly tied to the handle.  Still no sign of yours.

Baggage handling, or rather mis-handling, continues to be one of the single largest hindrances to an efficient airline passenger process. In SITA’s Baggage Report of 2016, a colossal 23.1 million bags were reported to have been lost, delayed or damaged. Andrew Price, head of Airport Operations Management of the International Air Transport Association admits that airports are crippled by capacity issues in their baggage halls. Given that the baggage handling systems are already operating above design peak, this is clearly an issue which is only going to get worse with passenger numbers estimated to be around 7 billion by 2034.

Whilst airlines and airports propagate the top tips to avoid issues with luggage, SITA has analysed the reasons behind mishandling and it is evident that, in reality, passengers have absolutely no control over the ultimate destiny of their belongings. As can be seen in the below image, virtually none of these reasons are remotely within a passenger’s circle of influence –

One commonly cited tip is to ensure bags are checked-in well in advance, and all major airports echo that passengers should arrive 2-3 hours before a flight’s departure. However, Don Harris, senior director of ground operations for Southwest Airlines advises that “if bags are coming in for a flight that departs in three hours… it could become a case of out of sight, out of mind”. This also speaks volumes for the lack of care and respect that mars the baggage handling system  – Lucian Ilie, a former baggage supervisor at JFK admits “the lost bags don’t really get much attention…they just get kicked around”. In the outrageous footage below, baggage handlers were caught hurling suitcases from an easyJet plane “like rubbish bags onto a waiting truck”.

Once bags are handed over at the check-in desk, most passengers fail to appreciate the myriad of stages that occur before the bag reaches them at the other side (or fails to, as the case may be.. ‘scuse the pun). Since “a modern baggage operation is a mashup of high-tech innovation and old-fashioned grunt work”, a single mistake from an employee working in remarkably trying conditions can all but ruin your eagerly awaited and meticulously planned trip.

We can’t cram everything into our hand-luggage, and even if we could, passengers flying with airlines such as RyanAir and Easyjet have a less than 50% chance of their hand-luggage flying in the same plane as them. The solution? Door-to-door delivery. Cut out the airlines completely. Apart from making the entire process of travelling a lot easier, you will not have to take a gamble on your personal possessions every time you fly.

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