One of the main reasons why travellers do not check in their baggages is the fear of losing them impact their work or vacation. The world leading air transport information technology and communications specialist, SITA, released a new report that brought good news to calm travellers’ fears. This post takes a detail look into the numbers and the directives that can be employed by airlines and airports to lower the probability of your next baggage being lost further.
Lost Checked Baggage
According to the SITA Baggage Report 2017, an average of 5.73 bags per thousand passengers were mishandled last year. This is down ~12.3% from the previous best mark of 6.53 recorded in 2015.
While this is a record low, the expense to recover lost baggages totalled US$2.1 billion (May 10 Exchange rate: £1.6 billion, €1.9 billion) in 2016 globally. This represented ~5.9% of the overall estimated net profit of US$35.6 billion (~£27.8 billion, €33.1 billion) according to International Air Transport Association (IATA)’s December 2016 update.
Passenger vs Baggage – A Journey Comparison
Ever wonder why there is a check-in time requirement for different airports and flights? One of the biggest reasons is to allow airlines and airports enough time to identify, sort, and transport baggages from drop off to the right flight.
While passengers’ typical journey consists of going through check-in, security, border control (optional) to departure gates and on board a flight.
Their baggages go through a more complex journey. This consists of the check-in agent or passengers transferring the baggages to a handling/drop off system which will then pass through security screeners, automated sorting process and a variety of ground handlers and partners who prepare the flight. Baggages are loaded onto containers and transported to the assigned aircraft for departure and unloaded at arrival for transfer to a connecting flight or delivery at the baggage pick-up area.
The following is an example of how Singapore Changi Airport performs baggage management daily:
The more the baggages are handled by different parties (both humans and machines) during their journey, the higher the possibility that they could be mishandled which could impact passengers’ overall trip experience. The dissatisfaction generated from mishandled baggages has consistently made the top 3 in the US Department of Transportation’s monthly statistics complaint list.
Enhancing Baggage Management
IATA approved Resolution 753 in 2015 which requires its members (which covers ~83% of total scheduled passenger traffic) to implement systems and processes that will accurately maintain an inventory of baggages by monitoring them from their journey’s start to finish by June 2018. The purpose as stated by the resolution is to:
- Prevent and reduce mishandling by determining custody of every bag during different phases of baggage chain,
- Increase passenger satisfaction, as mishandling is reduced,
- Reduce the possibility of baggage fraud by closing the baggage journey,
- Enable exceptions to be detected where baggage is delivered to a party, but not processed further,
- Speed up reconciliation and flight readiness for departing flights,
- Help measuring compliance to service level agreements, and
- Provide evidence to an automatic interline proration process
SITA said that when this is in place “airlines will be able to share the information with their passengers and codeshare partners allowing them to track their bag, just like a parcel”, meaning “passengers will stay informed and all parties involved in their journey can take action if flights are disrupted and their bags are delayed”.
“It is frustrating for passengers and airlines when bags go missing but the days of not knowing where your bag is will soon to be a thing of the past,” said Ilya Gutlin, SITA President, Air Travel Solutions.
“We are on the brink of a new era in airline baggage management because the world’s airlines are committing to track baggage throughout its journey. This requires data capture, management and sharing across airlines, airports and ground handlers giving a better view of where each piece of luggage is at every stage.
What Have Been Done So Far?
A few airlines have implemented solutions that are shown as great proof cases for others to follow. In the examples below, success was achieved when the airline worked with its partners in baggage handling, information technology and airports.
Delta Air Lines
Delta Air Lines is the first US based airline to implement Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) baggage tracking technology which allows passengers to track their baggages in real time from start to finish. The RFID technology replaced the manual bar code scanning process popularized in the 1990s.
The US$50 investment at the biggest 344 stations served by Delta had shown upwards to 99.9% success rates for the airline. Passengers are able to track their checked baggages (similar to package delivery service like UPS) in real time with the October 2016 version 4 update to the Fly Delta mobile application. Passengers with data access would be able to find out which belt their baggages will be unloaded to upon arrival.
Star Alliance, the biggest airline alliance in the world with 28 members including Singapore Airlines (SQ), Air Canada (AC) and United Airlines (UA) are spending multi-million dollars to come up with a consistent back-end systems layout. This will ensure that baggages travelling across the member airlines would be trackable by passengers during any point of their journey. The alliance also strive to streamline the number of handling points by grouping member airlines under one roof. For example, Air India became the 24th member to serve London’s Heathrow Airport (LHR) out of Terminal 2 | The Queen’s Terminal. This move enables the airline to share resources such as the use of 81 check in kiosks, Star Alliance Gold Fast Track service, and faster interlined baggage services. The latter is important as it will reduce the number of contact points for baggages which would reduce opportunities for them to be mishandled.
Lufthansa German Group (LH) partnered with luxury company RIMOWA and introduced an elegant solution to imbed an electronic tag on the front of the baggage. Passengers who initiate the check-in process online can obtain boarding pass(es) and create an electronic tag with their itinerary directly to their baggage through the mobile application and a bluetooth connection. The baggages can then be dropped off directly at a designated zone at the airport without additional printing and can be tracked through selective mobile applications. This new method reduces paper tags and in use for many LH, EVA Airways (BR) and SWISS (LX) operated flights. Additional testing is being conducted with United Airlines (UA), Condor Airlines (DE) and Thomas Cook Airlines (HQ) for future implementation.
What Lies Ahead – Analysis?
Many airlines and airports have a long path ahead before the successful implementation of Resolution 753 ahead of June 1, 2018. The following are some considerations for both parties:
- Policy and process should be established to track a piece of baggage’s journey from check-in to collection at final destination. A reconciliation of the baggage and the traveller is completed and verifiable to ensure both arrive in the right location.
- Any new system introduction (e.g. RFID) takes time to test and implement, it would be important for airlines to do more trial runs to ensure that accuracy is maintained and baggages are not lost as per the established policy.
- Baggage tracking process should be introduced for employees and passengers so that they would be able to monitor the journey. This will include an update process to handle any lost and mishandled baggages.
- Many airlines sell codeshare flights operated by another airline. Airlines need to educate passengers on where to track baggages (if outside of its own mobile applications or website). Interface between codeshare and interlined airlines need to be verified to ensure baggages are properly transferred and reported.
- Connection process should be fully tested to ensure that baggages would have enough time to be transported onto the next flight. This might impact connection times at different airports or between flights to allow for enough time for baggages to be transferred.
- Irregular flight operations (such as cancellation, delays, diversion) often lead to baggages being mishandled. This is one area where airlines need to work with airports more closely to ensure that the baggages are tracked and not lost in a black hole.
- More airports have service level agreements on baggage delivery times. It is important to test the overall process to determine if these times are maintainable while ensuring all baggages follow the passengers as per the Resolution.
- Airports will need to work with airlines to test and implement new technology.
- Reporting technology needs to interface with airlines’ mobile application and website technology to ensure passengers can properly track where their baggages are located.
- Working with other stakeholders, airports might want to partner with train or bus operators to introduce new drop off points so that baggages can be sorted and managed earlier.