The Air Transport Industry is looking for solutions: Growing passenger numbers almost double – getting baggage mishandling rates under control

May 16, 2023

Digitisation is crucial to address key issues and give passengers new confidence in baggage check-in

Airlines and airports are facing an increase in baggage mishandling rates as passenger numbers grow: According to SITA’s 2023 Baggage IT Insights report released today, the number of mishandled bags almost doubled from 2021 to 2022 – to 7.6 per 1000 passengers.

The shortage of qualified staff, the resurgence of international travel and airport congestion have made baggage management and smooth handling at airports a challenge – especially during peak travel periods. The increase in denied boarding has highlighted the need to further digitise baggage handling. The industry is shifting its focus to digitisation and automation, with technology investments that enable greater automation and self-service a top priority.

In 2022, delayed baggage accounted for 80% of all mishandled baggage. In the same year, there was an increase in lost and stolen bags to 7% and damaged and partially stolen bags dropped to 13%.

The increase in the mishandling rate comes after more than a decade of declines in mishandled baggage. Significant process improvements have contributed to a 59.7% decrease in misrouting per thousand passengers between 2007 and 2021. However, given pressures from staff shortages and on operations following the COVID 19 pandemic, the misrouting rate of 7.6 bags per thousand passengers in 2022 represents a 75% increase over 2021.

In the past, the majority of mishandled baggage was due to transfer reloads. This was no different in 2022, with an increase of one percentage point compared to 2021, bringing the proportion of baggage delayed in transfer to 42%. This increase can be attributed to the resurgence of international and long-haul flights, which lead to loading errors and a higher proportion of baggage delayed at transfer. Failure to load baggage accounted for 18% of all mishandled baggage in 2022, a decrease of 3% from the previous year.

Loading errors more than doubled year-on-year and accounted for 9% of all delayed baggage in 2022 due to operational pressures on baggage systems.

David Lavorel SITA CEO commented, “After a decade in which the mishandling rate more than halved between 2007 and 2021, it is disappointing to see it now rising again. As an industry, we need to work hard to help passengers regain confidence in checking in their luggage. At SITA, we are working directly with airlines and airports to solve key baggage issues through intelligent automation, tracking and digital platforms.”

Investing in real-time baggage status information has become a key priority for airlines, with 57% of airlines providing employees with mobile access to real-time baggage status information. This number is expected to increase significantly to 84% by 2025, and 67% of airlines plan to offer real-time baggage status information directly to passengers, a significant improvement from 25% today.

SITA has developed the WorldTracer Auto Reflight system in direct response to the high transfer mishandling rates. This solution automatically identifies bags that are unlikely to make their scheduled connecting flight and rebooks them onto the next available flight using the baggage tag available – while also informing the passenger.

SITA estimates that the automatic forwarding of delayed baggage (reflight) could save the industry up to $30 million per year. The latest partnership between Lufthansa and SITA using this technology aims to digitize the manual reflight process, and the results of the proof of concept suggest that up to 70 % of Lufthansa’s misrouted baggage at Munich Airport can be automatically forwarded.

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