Airlines struggle to reduce global mishandled baggage rate

April 24, 2019
Mishandled baggage SITA
Photo: SITA

Airlines will struggle to further reduce the global rate of mishandled baggage without the help of new technology.

The 2019 Baggage IT Insights report by technology company SITA found the mishandled baggage rate had plateaued at about 5.7 per thousand passengers in the past three years after a big fall over the past decade.

The rate in 2018 was 5.69 mishandled bags per thousand passengers, up 2.2 percent compared to 2017.

The good news for passengers, not to mention technology companies such as SITA, is that the first analysis of airlines already using tracking technology shows they are seeing improvements of between 38 percent and 66 percent.

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The rate of improvement depends on the level of tracking introduced and where.

mishandled baggage SITA
Graphic; SITA

One of the “pinch points” accounting for almost half of mishandled bags occurs when baggage is transferred from aircraft or airline to another.

Tracking at key points such as transfers “will go a long way to eliminating mishandled bags,” according to SITA baggage director Peter Drummond.

Drummond said the plateauing of the mishandled baggage rate had come as the number of checked bags had ballooned in 2018 to 4.27 billion.

“More bags makes things more challenging,’’ he said. “Everyone across the industry needs to look beyond the process and technology improvements made in the past decade and adopt the latest technology such as tracking to make the next big cut in the rate of mishandled baggage.”

SITA says total annual mishandled bag numbers have plummeted 47 percent from 44.9 million in 2007 to 24.8 million in 2018,  reducing the bill to the industry from $US4.22 billion to $US2.4 billion.

Delays account for 77 percent of mishandled bags with damaged and pilfered bags coming in at 18 percent and theft at 5 percent.

European passengers are far more likely to have a problem than their counterparts in North America and Asia.

Asia has the best regional performance among the three at 1.77 mishandled bags per thousand passengers followed by the US at 2.85.

Europe is a distant third with 7.29 mishandled bags per thousand passengers, although this has reduced from 16.6 in 2007.

Understandably, passengers are happier if they are not worried about their bags going astray are increasingly looking for tracking apps.

An International Air Transport Association resolution on baggage tracking is now in force but the industry group says it will take time for airlines to implement it throughout their networks.

The airlines are looking at RFID as a low-cost tracking solution and a proposal is tabled for a vote at IATA’s annual meeting in Seoul in June.