Most people have stood at the airport carousel with a slow sense of hopelessness as the last piece of baggage arrives and yours is nowhere to be found. Your dream holiday has gotten off on the wrong foot, or you’ve arrived home exhausted with nothing to show for it. These trials and tribulations can be of great frustration to passengers all over the world.
The pain of mishandled baggage is shared by the airlines, who incur heavy costs to recover misplaced bags or reimburse passengers when luggage can't be found.
Luckily, these types of situations have been in steady decline as airlines become better at handling baggage. This has been led by steady investment in new IT infrastructure and improvements in processes that have seen the rate of mishandling more than halve over the past decade. In the past decade alone, there has been a significant drop in baggage mishandling. The total number of bags mishandled each year fell 47% from 46.9 million in 2007 to 24.8 million in 2018.
Thanks to investments by airlines, the global airline industry has also almost halved the cost of mishandled bags from $4.2 billion in 2007 to $2.4 billion last year. Key among these investments is new technology that allows them to track bags across an entire journey.
In 2018, the International Air Transport Industry Association introduced a new resolution that required airlines to track bags at four keys points in the journey—at check-in, loading onto the aircraft, transfer from one airline or aircraft to another, and at arrival. So, over the last year, an increasing number of airlines and airports have started to introduce tracking at these key points in a passenger’s journey, all to improve baggage management and further reduce the chances of a bag being mishandled.
Research reveals that where bags were being tracked when loaded onto the aircraft, the rate of improvement ranged between 38% and 66%, which can be attributed to the level of operating processes and systems currently in place.
Transferred bags accounted for 46% of all mishandled luggage. Transfer is by far the most difficult stage in the baggage journey as there are multiple airlines and airports involved. By introducing tracking at this step, airlines and airports have a clearer view on where exactly baggage is, which could drive a sharp improvement in the mishandling rate overall.
There is an added benefit to tracking bags. While focus has been on improving operational efficiency, information can also be shared with passengers—something travelers are increasingly demanding from airlines and airports. More than 25% of travelers received baggage collection notifications via their mobile devices last year. Passengers that use this technology report 8.6% higher satisfaction rates than those relying on screen or public announcements. Almost two-thirds say they would track their bags on mobile apps, use bag collection information at arrivals and use their mobiles to report mishandled bags.
Aside from improving the everyday lives of airline passengers, investment in tracking technology will ensure sustainable aviation growth. By treating baggage as an integrated process, baggage tracking has the potential to make bottlenecks more visible and therefore avoidable. Technology will be critical to delivering future step-change improvements to both the overall baggage mishandling rate and tackling the transfer bottleneck—all while providing a better passenger experience.
Peter Drummond is the Portfolio Director for Baggage at SITA.