What’s Behind the Increase in Mishandled Bags at the Airport?

The global mishandled baggage rate spiked by 24% in 2021

Baggage on a baggage carousel
Chances are, these bags were mishandled.

What’s more anxiety-inducing than being one of the last ones waiting to reclaim your luggage, as the number of bags coming down the carousel begins to dwindle? I’ll tell you: nothing. Unfortunately, for those who share my apprehension surrounding lost or damaged luggage, the immediate outlook is…bleak.

That’s because — per a new study by aviation technology company SITA — while the industry was busy recovering from the pandemic in 2021, the global mishandled baggage rate spiked by 24% to 4.35 bags per thousand passengers, much of which they credit to the resumption of international and long-haul flights.

A further breakdown of that study shows that “transfer bags” account for the largest piece of the mishandled pie, with 41% of bags being delayed at transfer — up four points from 2020. Delayed bags accounted for 71% of all mishandled bags in 2021 — up two points — while the number of lost and stolen bags both increased to 6%.

The reason for the increase is obvious: staffing shortages. “Airlines, ground handlers, and airports have downsized to maintain viability during the pandemic, which has impacted resources and expertise dedicated to baggage management,” the report reads. “Unaddressed, this challenge may see the mishandling rate continue to creep up and become much higher than it was pre-pandemic.”

“The industry now needs to do more with less. As we emerge from the pandemic, our customers’ focus remains on safely managing the end-to-end transport of passengers’ baggage, but now they must also reduce the total cost and training required,” David Lavorel, SITA CEO, said. “There is significant pressure to increase operational efficiency, which is accelerating digitalization.”

Quite simply, self-service initiatives are becoming paramount to both operational success, as well as ensuring that your baggage makes it to your final destination with you.

The good news, if there is any to be gleaned here, is that the number of bags damaged and pilfered in transit decreased to 23%, so if your bag does make it to your final destination, it’s — at the very least — less likely to look like it’s been mauled by a bear in the cargo hold. The other good news is, thanks to Bluetooth tracking devices like Apple AirTags — which can find items much further away with the help from the hundreds of millions of Apple devices in the Find My network— you can, at least to some degree, take matters into your own hands. One Apple user even managed to foil a stolen luggage scheme thanks to his AirTag.

In any event: T’s and P’s for everyone still waiting on lost or delayed luggage today.


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