I just got back via Madrid from a lovely week in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Unfortunately my luggage didn’t. While talking to the lost-luggage people, Global Baggage Solutions in this case (boom boom), I was surprised to find they initially didn’t know where my luggage was.
Given all luggage is barcoded, I had imagined that every time an event happened to the luggage (onto the plane, off the plane, into storage, onto the carousel, etc), the barcode was scanned and a central register updated. If you’ve already got barcodes on everything, and barcode scanners knocking around, why not hook them up to a system to track progress along the journey?
According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), each year baggage mishandling affects 42 million passengers and costs the industry $3.3 billion. It turns out the first item on the list of their Baggage Improvement Program is:
Integrate systems – to improve the flow of information between departure control and baggage systems.
If anyone from the BIP is reading, I can help you with that.
The Goldilocks Connection
If you have a tight connection, the airport may not have enough time to move your luggage from one aeroplane to the next. Currently airports have no means of identifying luggage on a tight connection, and therefore no way to prioritise that luggage.
On the other hand, if you have a long time between flights, your luggage is moved to a holding area. When the time comes for the new flight, it’s scanned and merged with the freshly checked-in luggage. It’s not uncommon for luggage in the holding area to be forgotten.
The ideal connection is somewhere in the middle: enough time for your luggage to cross from one plane to the next, but not enough time for it to be left in storage and forgotten.
It turns out my luggage was languishing in storage for an extra day and a half.
How To Not Lose Your Luggage
Fly directly where possible. This eliminates a whole class of baggage mishandling problems.
If you have to fly indirectly, aim for a layover of 2-4 hours (my guesstimate).
Print your itinerary and put it inside your luggage on the top. Then, if the baggage tag comes off, the ground staff can open your bag and see immediately who owns it and where it’s supposed to be going. According to this IATA presentation (page 21), 800,000 bags per year are permanently lost because they cannot be identified after the tag falls off.