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Baggage Mishandling Surges Post-Pandemic: Insights from SITA Baggage Report

As the global travel industry sees a remarkable recovery post-pandemic, a concerning trend has emerged — a significant spike in baggage mishandling. The latest SITA Baggage IT Insights report illuminates the increase, showing airport and airline mishandled baggage statistics. The report reveals that mishandled baggage rates surged by 74.7% in 2022, reaching 7.6 bags per thousand passengers.

SITA Graph, Year-on-Year Baggage Mishandling rate, shows an increase of 74.7% mishandled bags in 2022 compared to 2021. (7.6 per thousand passengers in 2022 versus 4.32 per thousand in 2021).

Pandemic Recovery and Baggage Mishandling

The unexpected bounce back in global air travel in 2022 surpassed the industry’s projections for 2024, with global traffic reaching 90.5% of April 2019 levels by April 2023. Furthermore, during holiday periods, traffic even outdid pre-pandemic levels.

The recovery of air travel brought forth a unique set of challenges. The return to international and long-haul flights meant more transfers and increased baggage mishandling incidents. 

SITA CEO David Lavorel attributed the mishandling issue primarily to the sharp increase in international and long-haul flights throughout 2022, combined with staffing shortages at airports and airlines.

Transfer bags often moved between flights on international routes, were particularly susceptible to mishandling. The mishandling rates on these international flights are eight times higher than those on domestic routes, emphasizing the need for better baggage management, especially in the international travel arena.

SITA graph Transfer Mishandling & Loading Errors are the top reasons for delayed bags. Transfer mishandling accounts for 42% of baggage mishandling errors. Loading errors account for 17% of all baggage mishandling errors.

Asia Pacific and North American Airlines Mishandled Baggage Statistics Addressed

“Asia Pacific Airlines mishandled baggage performance deteriorated in 2022, with approximately three mishandled bags out of every thousand passengers,” says Beatrice Lim, Director, Industry & Regulatory Affairs, Association of Asia Pacific Airlines. 

She attributes the rise to the strong rebound in travel demand and the multiple operational challenges airlines faced, including staff shortages and other resourcing issues that resulted in increased disruptions and congestion at airports. 

“Nevertheless, airlines and airports across the region are taking various steps to improve baggage handling efficiency, including intensifying recruitment and accelerating digitalization efforts. The industry is proactively working to ensure that it can continue to meet demand and provide excellent service standards to passengers,” Lim concludes.

John Heimlich, Vice President and Chief Economist, Airlines for America, shares similar insights from North America. 

“In 2022, as the aviation industry and globe emerged from the Covid-19 pandemic, U.S. airlines faced staffing and absenteeism challenges across the supply chain that impacted mishandled baggage rates,” he says. “In aggregate, airlines mishandled 6.35 checked bags for every thousand enplaned. We are encouraged by the successful, aggressive hiring campaigns that have been launched by U.S. carriers, which now employ the most workers in two decades and anticipate baggage handling numbers to improve as thousands of new employees gain experience and complete training.”

However, despite the challenges and human resource limitations, the industry is turning the tide by leveraging smart technologies and digitalization.

The Role of Digitalization in Baggage Management

SITA graph, leveraging technology to improve baggage handling. Benefits include Reduced Costs, Increased Operational Efficiency, Happy Passengers, Frictionless Travel, Sustainable Solution.

In response to these challenges, the industry has turned towards digitalization and smart technologies. By doing so, they hope to optimize baggage handling and improve the overall passenger experience. 

Investments in self-service initiatives have increased. Most airports and airlines have prioritized touchless bag tagging options that rely on kiosks and passengers’ mobile devices.

Further, implementing unassisted bag drop facilities is gaining momentum. According to SITA’s report, 96% of airlines and 72% of airports planning to offer touchless unassisted bag drop by 2025. 

The travel industry aims to minimize costs and streamline the baggage handling process by digitizing baggage operations. Ultimately, this will lead to enhanced passenger experiences and fewer mishandled bags.

Tech Innovations in Baggage Handling: SITA’s WorldTracer Auto Reflight System

SITA graph, Automation & Digitalizaiton are key to the success of baggage handling. Illustrates SITA's Auto Reflight feature, where 70% of delayed bags were automatically reflighted in a recent deployment. Reflight informs the baggage system of the new bag routing, and uses the original bag tag to reflight.

To address the specific issue of transfer mishandling, SITA has developed the WorldTracer Auto Reflight system. This solution automatically identifies bags unlikely to make their planned connecting flight and rebooks them on the next available flight. The system keeps the passenger informed throughout the process. SITA estimates that automation of reflight operations could save the industry up to $30 million per year. These savings underline the importance of technological investment in overcoming this issue.

The industry expects baggage handling to improve as airports and airlines ramp up their investments in self-service technology and digitalization. Real-time baggage status information is a key focus for airlines. Projections show 84% of airlines offering real-time baggage status information to their staff and 67% to passengers by 2025.

SITA and Lufthansa Partnership: Proof of Concept in Baggage Reflight

SITA graph Lufthansa Use Case: Automation of Baggage Reflight. Illustrates the steps of the WorldTracer auto reflight system. A delayed or mishandled bag is detected, passenger information obtained, VIA system is configurated, real-time flight information is obtained, software identiifes and selects the most suitable flight for reflighting the bag, the passenger is automaticaly notified of bag delay, passenger provides details of destination, and passenger is notified to expect their bag.

Lufthansa and SITA are collaborating on improving baggage reflight operations and reducing mishandled baggage costs by automating baggage reflight operations. 

SITA’s WorldTracer Auto Reflight system suggests suitable routing for rush bags. It informs the baggage system of new bag routing using the original bag tag. This collaborative innovation uses digital automation to reduce costs and inconvenience while contributing to sustainability and CO2 targets. Lufthansa and SITA’s partnership aims to digitalize the In their Proof of Concept. They propose that they can automatically reflight 70% of Lufthansa’s mishandled bags at Munich Airport.

The baggage reflight solution ensures that mishandled bags are returned to their owners as soon as possible. This is critical for industry baggage management as travel reaches its pre-pandemic level, addressing the mounds of mishandled baggage. 

The Road Ahead: Tackling the Baggage Handling Crisis

SITA graph, the increase in mishandling accelerates digitalization and automation of baggage management. Illustrates do more with less resources, digitalizing operations, increased performance, increased customer satisfaction, decreased percentage of mishandled bags.

The rapid post-pandemic recovery of air travel brought with it the problem of baggage mountains at airports worldwide. As the industry gears up to handle the uptick in passenger traffic, mishandled baggage rates have become a pressing issue. The disproportionate rates of mishandled bags in international versus domestic flights underscore the need for investment in technology and infrastructure.

The partnership between SITA and Lufthansa to automate baggage reflight operations is a step in the right direction. Technology can improve operational efficiency and passenger experience in the coming years by reducing the costs and inconvenience associated with mishandled baggage.

Move Toward Digitalization is Key to Baggage Handling Recovery

SITA graph airlines and airports continue to automate baggage process. Illustrates 98% of airlines have plans to adopt bag tags via kiosk or mobile and 96% plan to adopt unassisted bag drop by 2025. 95% of airports plan to adopt bag tags via kiosk/mobile and 72% plan to adopt unassisted bag drop by 2025.

While the increase in air travel post-pandemic has increased baggage mishandling, the industry is working to improve baggage handling. Digitalization and technologies, like SITA’s WorldTracer Auto Reflight system, highlight the industry’s commitment to operational efficiency and passenger experience improvements.

Efficient and reliable baggage handling will maintain passenger trust and confidence in the global air travel industry. SITA and other industry stakeholders are committed to making this a reality. Passengers can soon check in their baggage, confident they’ll find it in good condition and on time at their destination.

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