Airlines Improving on Lost and Damaged Luggage

The number of bags delayed, damaged or lost by airlines has decreased by more than half since the airline industry hit a low point for lost luggage six years ago. This happened because of a concerted effort world-wide by airlines and airports to fix a major inconvenience for travelers. Last year airlines mishandled 21.8 million bags, or 6 per 1,000 passengers, according to SITA, an aviation communications and technology company that tracks baggage performance each year. That’s well less than half the rate in 2007, when airlines world-wide mishandled 46.9 million bags, or 18.88 per 1,000 passengers. Lost baggage was costing the airline industry $4 billion a year at that time. Repatriating delayed or lost luggage to passengers cost an average of $100 per bag, and there had been a steady increase in the frequency of mishandled baggage until then.

One big factor for the long-term change in the U.S. is that airlines realized when they started charging fees for baggage, customer expectations would raise. Airlines typically spent as little as possible on baggage handling before fees because it didn’t drive revenue. Now baggage was bringing in money and new equipment was easier to justify. Bag fees have also reduced the volume of checked baggage, as passengers are carrying more on board. Improving the on-time performance helps too, as flights arrive on-time and handlers have a better chance of connecting bags to the next flight. TSA also moved baggage screening from terminal lobbies, where it manually put bags through giant screening machines, to machines built into conveyor-belt systems that can check bags faster. That really sped up the process of getting bags to airplanes. When bags do go missing, SITA says 81% get delivered to passengers unscathed. Damaged luggage or bags with items pilfered add up to nearly 16% of mishandled bag reports, while bags declared lost or stolen amount to 3% of all mishandled bags. The future is expected to be electronic tags loaded with passenger itineraries that will help further improve reliability.