The Growing Lost Luggage Problem

By: Aaron Kirley

These points of failure cause luggage loss and delays.  In 2005 the airline industry saw a staggering 23% increase in lost luggage.  That equates to nearly 10,000 lost bags each day! 

When you relinquish your luggage to the airline agent at the check-in counter, the luggage begins a complicated journey to the belly of your plan.  The conveyor system is owned and operated by the airport.  Airlines pay terminal fees to cover the cost of baggage handling and the TSA regulates the baggage handling process.   Although the airlines are responsible for your luggage, they have little control over the TSA’s baggage handling process and therein lies one major point of failure.

Every piece of luggage goes through a screening process involving x-ray scanners, chemical sensing puffers, metal detectors and other sensitive security equipment.  If anything of concern is found, the luggage is pulled off the conveyor system and manually checked by a TSA agent.  Manually checking bags takes time and the airlines operate on tight schedules.

Though quite simple in form, the luggage tag is a very powerful tool which is similar to a FedEx tracking number that the airlines use to monitor bag movement throughout airport baggage handling hubs.  These hubs rapidly move luggage using complicated systems of conveyors and shoots.  Many airports have aging conveyor systems with mechanical problems.  Luggage get lodged in shoots, straps get caught in pulleys, conveyor belts break, luggage tags fall off and bags are incorrectly routed.   Even a small glitch in the system can delay hundreds of bags in minutes.

Airlines are not totally off the hook either; they have those FedEx-like tracking numbers which allow them to watch your luggage move throughout the baggage handling system (unless the tag falls off).  Airlines are forced to decide between delaying a flight and leaving luggage behind.  Of course tight budgets and backed-up flight schedules make the problem worse. 

When you take a step back the answer is very clear, it just doesn’t make sense to delay a Boeing 757 with 200 passengers for just a few bags.  On-time flights are a key operating metric for airlines and their employees are under pressure to consistently maintain arrival and departure schedules.  As a result of TSA regulations, aging airport conveyor systemsArticle Search, and airline schedules; luggage inevitably gets left behind.

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