Why Is Baggage Really Delayed?

Call it a perfect storm of variables

1 in 6 people said their baggage was lost or delayed last year
1 in 6 people said their baggage was lost or delayed last year

According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, over 1.9 million bags were mishandled last year by U.S. air carriers. That’s more than twice the number of mishandled bags from the first half of 2021. Hell, Southwest lost thousands of bags alone in the month of December.

All of this to say: what was once considered a fairly rare occurrence has now become par the course where air travel is involved. Experts say things aren’t going to get any better, either.

According to a new report from Skift, the number of airline passengers is trending to surpass 2019 levels. That’s raised questions regarding existing infrastructure and whether or not it is capable of withstanding the rise in demand…which also extends to baggage processes.

“I would say disruptions in the system are going to become, unfortunately, more pronounced,” said Darin Juby, head of baggage transformation for Future Travel Experience, described as a “sort of think tank for air travel innovation comprised of industry professionals.”

Stuck Waiting at the Baggage Carousel? You May Be Entitled to Miles.
Both Alaska and Delta have a 20-minute baggage guarantee

The luggage debacle first emanated from a global lack of airport staff coming out of the pandemic. But the pertinacity of the problem into 2023 suggests that it’s more than just that. A lot of it actually has to do with outdated technology, coupled with the fact that there isn’t currently a standard way for airports, or airlines, to communicate with each other.

“From the time a passenger drops off luggage until the time of pickup, that bag goes through a system that typically is decades old. Despite advanced consumer tracking tech, most airlines still track bags with a paper tag that contains a barcode,” Justin Dawes wrote.

“While Amazon warehouses are full of robots organizing packages, airports still transport bags via conveyor belt and manual labor. While an online package can be traced along its route from start to finish, most air travel passengers are left wondering where their bags are until they finally lay eyes on them again,” he continued.

Further, once a bag is lost, it enters a separate, yet equally outdated, set of processes. “Many of the airports that have to deal with lost items do so with manual processes like spreadsheets and phone calls,” Dawes said.

For better or for worse, however, travelers seem to be adapting. According to one survey, 41% of Americans said they will avoid checking in a bag on upcoming trips. As for the rest? It is our sincerest hope they’re traveling with an Apple AirTag.


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