The air transport industry has saved itself more than US$22bn in the past nine years, thanks to major improvements in baggage handling and a massive reduction in lost or mishandled bags.
Despite there being 43% more passengers in that period, the number of mishandled bags per 1,000 passengers fell by two-thirds, from 18.88 to just 6.5 – the lowest mishandling rate since SITA began reporting baggage handling trends in 2003.
In the meantime, the actual number of mishandled bags has dropped significantly – from around 46.8m in 2007 to 22.75m in 2015.
But that’s still a massive number. Much remains to be done if the US$2.3bn being spent each year on resolving mishandled bags is to be reduced even further.
Hitting the spot
The evidence is that through a mix of technology, changing passenger preference and an ever growing customer service culture, we’re witnessing a radical shift in how people’s bags travel securely with them from A to B, and often via C.
Passenger experience is paramount and improving baggage handling will deliver improvements for passengers along with cost savings.
Peter Drummond, Head of the Baggage Portfolio, SITA
And the good news is that there’s no let up in the pace of change. “Passenger experience is paramount and improving baggage handling will deliver improvements for passengers along with cost savings,” comments Peter Drummond, Head of the Baggage Portfolio (acting) at SITA.
“The technology is available to support increased self-service, tracking and improved tracing – and SITA is working across the air transport community to deliver efficiencies.”
“Critically, airlines are also readying themselves for implementation of IATA’s Resolution 753 in June 2018,” adds Drummond.
“Improved visibility of each bags journey, will be achieved by the implementation of better baggage tracking system which will allow operational and performance improvements to be implemented.
“Some airlines will allow their passengers to track their bag, just like a parcel, allowing them to take fast action if flights are disrupted and their bags are delayed.”
A key baggage trend is the introduction of self-service bag drop services at airports. Though it’s been around for years, self bag-drop has taken a while to be accepted by the wider traveling public. But attitudes are changing.
While only 20% of passengers questioned used a staffed or fully automatic bag-drop in 2015 (as opposed to an airline check-in counter), when asked whether they would expect to be using either a dedicated staffed station or full self-service bag-drop in 2016, the number had increased to more than 30%.
The world is seeing increasing adoption at airports, such as the unassisted bag-drop process like those in Brisbane, Melbourne, and Singapore Changi airports, implemented by SITA.
Melbourne Airport’s work with SITA has involved self-service units so passengers can ‘tag and drop’ bags without the need for a staff member, in a process that takes passengers an average of 30 seconds to drop their bags.
“With the acquisition of Type22 at the end of 2015, SITA has taken a major step forward in the area of bag-drop,” according to Rico Barandun, SITA's Portfolio Director, Self-Service, Airports.
The Dutch company’s self bag-drop portfolio includes Scan&Fly and Drop&Fly, complementing SITA’s existing end-to-end self-service solutions.
“Bringing Type22’s products into SITA’s portfolio makes us leaders in self-service bag-drop integrated with common-use systems. As we see self bag-drop evolve, it allows us to offer solutions that are perfect both for new airport terminals as well as existing desk environments,” adds Barandun.
Other exciting advances are afoot, including the development of a baggage robot named ‘Leo’ - successfully trialed with the Geneva Airport outside of Terminal 1.
This fully autonomous, self-propelling baggage robot has the capacity to check in, print bag tags and transport up to two suitcases with a maximum weight of 32kg.
Bag tag foothold
As such innovations imply, over the next few years the focus for airlines and airports is on expanding the range of baggage self-service options.
As the facility for passengers to print their own bag-tags at a kiosk becomes the norm over the next three years, airlines are starting to turn their attention to alternative options for passengers to take control of their bag-tags.
The past year has seen some progress on permanent electronic tags and some airlines trialing, or soft-launching, home-printed bag-tags.
Electronic bag-tags look likely to gain a foothold in 2017, following on from IATA and Airlines for America progress on the development of coordinated standards relating to the definition and requirements of electronic tags and subsequent work in the industry to iron out the practical issues. How bags are tagged for their journey is also evolving.
While electronic tags may appear to have greatest appeal for a niche group of frequent flyers, the air transport community is also working towards a simple mass market solution – home-printed bag-tags.
Regulatory authorities in many countries have granted approval for their use, although the European Union is still at the trial and assessment stage.
In the summer of 2015, Swiss Airlines launched home bag-tag printing for any of its flights departing from Geneva and Zurich Airports. Registered and tagged baggage can be handed in, either at the self-service bag-drop machine or at any staffed bag-drop desk.
The airline also offers this facility for selected inbound flights from stations outside the European Union to these airports.
Outside Europe, more airlines have joined the ranks of those offering this service. AirAsia launched ‘Home Tag’ last year at Johor Bahru’s Senai International Airport in Malaysia for flights to Kuching and Kuala Lumpur.
The low cost carrier has since been working to make Home Tag available across its regional network.
As self-service advances in the baggage arena, airlines are keen to future-proof their self-service investments to take advantage of new baggage processes at the airport.
An example is Air France-KLM’s deployment of self-service kiosks at its hubs in Amsterdam and Paris during 2016, which will ultimately be available across the airline group’s network.
To support the move to self bag-tagging, the kiosks are equipped with extra storage for tags as well as audio and camera features for remote support from airline staff. The kiosks will also accommodate future services such as check-in and payment using near field communication technology.
Nicolas Nelson, VP Distributed Services IS Group, Air France-KLM Group, comments: “The New Generation Kiosk project is a strategic project for Air France-KLM, aimed at significantly improving the self-service experience in 50 airports worldwide.
“With these 765 state-of-the-art kiosks from SITA, we are providing a solution that will improve the self-service experience for check-in, self-tagging and baggage recovery.
“The initial feedback from our customers and station managers is very positive, with reports of increased availability, better user interface and improved self-service use ratios.”
Get it right
The accelerating move to such self-service baggage options needs to be managed with caution, however, according to Dr. Björn Becker, Lufthansa’s Director Product Management, Airport & Passenger Services.
“The challenge is to ask ourselves what do we need? What should processes look like in the future? What do we need to change in the process and how can technology help us?
Get it right quote
“My advice – it is better not to provide self-service at all, than to provide it just for the sake of it and see passengers fail. The success of self-service is not about technology, but about airports and airlines making sure that the process is right and passengers get and identify the benefit.
“If with self-service bag-drop you spend the same half hour in the queue that you did with agent check-in before, people will ask ‘what’s the benefit?’”
Baggage recovery or “tracing” is another area ripe for next generation technology. Such technology is being introduced following collaboration between SITA and German airline group Lufthansa on SITA’s WorldTracer® solution.
The new system provides Lufthansa agents access to a new, user-friendly desktop interface that makes it easy to record delayed baggage and trace the missing bags no matter where in the world they are.
The interface allows ground handlers, airport operators and airlines to access WorldTracer’s global baggage data while integrating it with their own reservation or operational systems, providing a rich data set that helps quickly trace a missing bag.
“This new, user-friendly version of WorldTracer makes it possible for agents to quickly trace a bag and return it to its owner,” says Guenter Friedrich, VP Commercial & Passenger, at Lufthansa.
“This will have a powerful impact on customer satisfaction. The new software is being rolled out to all Lufthansa agents during 2016 and will be made available to the broader air transport community.”
Bag tracking is in the spotlight too, and will continue to be so over the coming years as airlines work to ensure they can track each bag throughout its entire journey in readiness for the implementation of IATA’s Resolution 753.
This will require them, by June 2018, to be able to track a bag onto the aircraft, into arrivals or transfer areas and share this tracking information with the next handling agent (airline, ground handler or airport) in the journey.
As a result, there will be much closer monitoring of inbound (arrival/transfer) bags; and a major focus on exchanging bag information, not just among industry stakeholders but also to passengers, which will go some way to relieving the stress many passengers feel while waiting for their luggage at the bag carousel.
For Pablo Navarrete, Senior Airport Director, LATAM Airlines Group, the introduction of journey tracking is welcome.
“Our vision is to closely monitor and track each phase of the baggage handling process, from beginning to end. For passengers, it is a given that we will deliver their baggage on time at their destination,” he says.
“With a growing network of airports across multiple countries, the ability to access real-time data on such a vital element of the travel experience gives us peace of mind that we will always have full visibility of our passengers’ baggage and are able to act proactively before a bag is mishandled.
“Using the BagManager technology, we can provide passengers with real-time information, which is especially important if we need to alert them about any type of service disruption and proactively propose alternative solutions.”
As well as IATA driving change, there are other pressures on the air transport community to improve baggage performance.
In the USA, the Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization (AIRR) bill to re-authorize the funding of the Federal Aviation Administration also includes a proposal that would allow passengers on domestic flights to recoup their checked baggage fees.
That would be the case if the airline does not deliver their luggage within 24 hours from the time of the flight’s arrival at the destination where they were due to retrieve their checked baggage. See ‘The connected bag’ by Andrew Price, Head Global Baggage Operations at IATA.
Thanks to innovations in technology and a fresh determination to deal with an age-old problem, the prospect of the number of mishandled bags reducing radically below the 20m-plus mark is tantalizing – not least because of the opportunity to further improve the passenger experience, and book more millions of dollars of savings.