Friday, October 30, 2009

How They Lost My Luggage!

Is it a fair assumption that luggage entrusted to an airline at one end of a journey will be returned at the other end?

Well, it seems we are too demanding. As recently reported, 6 million items of lost luggage and delayed baggage occur every year in Europe alone! With the technology available it is jaw dropping how this figure can be so astronomical!

But who is to blame? The mechanical systems currently in use or the human element of the process?

Let's take a look at the mechanical system. Largely a maze of conveyors, luggage is scanned by 360 degree bar code readers which update the baggage system with the destination for each item of luggage. The accuracy rate of this automated procedure is 90%. The remaining 10% have to be scanned manually to determine where they are headed.

Another facet of the mechanical baggage system at modern international airports, is the destination-coded vehicle (DCV). This in essence is an internal airport railway of carrying tubs which transport luggage quickly over large distances to a combination of gates, terminal hubs and baggage carousels. Each DCV is identifiable by a unique radio identifier which tracks the tub's progress.

Further reliability is generated by using magnetic propulsion to move the luggage, thereby requiring less moving parts. Flexibility occurs by virtue of a complex network of tracks which can allow baggage to be re-routed should the need arise.

Where in The Process Does Luggage Get Lost?

Jobs exist because the existing technology is not totally refined: So far, a method of automatic loading from the conveyors directly in to the plane has not yet been invented. This element is done by hand, and it could be argued is where the trouble arises. Bags are loaded and unloaded by airport operatives several times, on and off tugs, plus on and off the aircraft. You tube is littered with evidence of careless actions by these operatives, and that takes place in the areas passengers can see! Who knows what happens behind the scenes?

Which leads us on to the rarely discussed third aspect of delayed luggage; security. Most are aware that common processes will involve x-ray scanning of baggage before loading on to aircraft, but that does not cause delays. Perhaps a much unspoken element of lost luggage which is latter “recovered”, could simply be the security services digging through personal items in a suspicious attempt to uncover an alternative motive for each journey.

With the global total of 32 million bags delayed, can it always be blamed on the baggage handlers? How often does indiscriminate bag searching by airport security cause the delays?

Further Reading

  1. Baggage handling explained - The steps at which luggage can get delayed.

  2. SITA global baggage report - statistics on lost luggage from around the world.

Technorati tags; delayed baggage, lost luggage.

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