Slick systems restore confidence in traveling with baggage
Nicole Hogg, Portfolio Director: Baggage, started her journey with SITA during the 2020 pandemic, a challenging time for global travel. As the industry seeks to restore trust and confidence, baggage is proving a critical element in a positive passenger experience.
What excites you about baggage management and your role?
I am incredibly excited about my role as Head of Baggage as it allows me to combine my passions for aviation and baggage. Coming from the airline industry I’ve seen, firsthand, the intricate world of baggage handling: the endless planning and coordination, plus the pressure on operational staff to ensure every piece of baggage reaches its intended destination seamlessly.
What excites me is that my team and I work directly with airlines and airports to help solve key pain points in the baggage journey. By using digitalization and automation we not only relieve the pressure for the operational staff – thereby driving operational efficiency - but help to restore confidence among passengers checking in bags. I get excited knowing that we get to make a positive difference in people’s lives and that our solutions play a crucial role in helping to minimize the chances of lost or mishandled baggage. Ultimately, it’s about ensuring that passengers can focus on enjoying their journey.
What are some of the issues impacting baggage operations currently?
Some of the challenges we are seeing at the moment are definitely around staff shortages, and a lack of baggage experience. A lot of people with 20- or 30-years’ experience ended up leaving after the pandemic, so now there are new people coming into the operation who have to learn baggage and the tricks of the trade.
Plus, the global surge in travel has been faster than expected, so there are operational challenges related to demand, delays, airport capacity and baggage handling resources.
On top of this, passenger anxiety is high. This is why, in baggage, we are seeing some people tracking their own bags using Apple Airtags.
Is this concern warranted?
There is a less than 1% chance that your bag will be mishandled and, if it is due to disruptions or human errors, the bag does get back to you 99.9% of the time. People are nervous about flying with baggage. They also don’t want to pay for it. So, more people are flying with hand luggage and trying to get as much into those bags as possible.
I was recently traveling from Manchester to the US and the captain came out of the cockpit into the cabin and said they didn’t have the space for all the bags in overhead lockers and under seats. Afterwards I was talking to the crew and they said, yes, people don’t want to wait at the baggage carousel because of delays, or they are nervous about not getting their bags back.
Airlines are paying attention, and currently there’s a big focus on baggage. We have systems that provide visibility of the bags and full tracking and tracing. SITA’s digitalization and automation solutions give full, real-time visibility and intimate management of every bag.
So, are Apple Airtags the way to go?
The challenge here is how airlines can get ahead of the curve in responding to passenger concerns.
We’ve introduced a new solution – WorldTracer Auto Notify – which proactively advises a passenger if their bag didn't make it on their flight. We are currently trialing this solution with a major airline; it alerts customers via text or email about problems with their bag and advises them not to wait at the baggage carousel. Then they’ll get a link to a self-service application to report the details of their bag and details of where they want the bag delivered. Throughout that whole process they’ll be kept up to date with messages – it just takes that anxiety away. And, unlike an Apple Airtag which doesn’t have geo-location, Auto Notify offers a precise location.
If you think about an Amazon delivery, or a pizza delivery on an app, you have visibility of where that parcel is at all times, it’s the same with a bag. Our systems give the airlines, airports, and customers more visibility around the whereabouts of bags at all checkpoints.
Is investing in automated baggage systems worth it?
Yes, automation and digitalization are a big investment, but you get that back twofold. The average cost of repatriating a bag to a customer is around US$150. Not only that, but you also improve safety, service and costs, and customer satisfaction. You don’t want someone at a barbecue saying: ‘I never want to fly with X airline, because they always lose my bag.’
Not all airlines have real-time information about baggage to make operational decisions. This lack of visibility is a real challenge. SITA is the number one baggage management provider in the world, so we have full end-to-end visibility of bags, from the time your bag is checked in to the time it arrives. Our SITA WorldTracer® system is a full repatriation service, so if your bag is lost our system will trace it and repatriate it.
If you widen the lens though, over the past decade we have seen a significant improvement in mishandled baggage. We’ve had a 60% reduction in mishandled baggage due to the introduction of automation, digitalization, baggage reconciliation systems and end-to-end tracking. So, the industry is doing something right – particularly if you consider that there were 4.5 billion global passengers in 2019 and that is expected to double by 2039, and along with it the millions or billions of bags that travel every year.
The benefits are definitely in driving operational efficiencies, plus ensuring customer satisfaction and mitigating reputational damage. Mishandled baggage costs the industry billions of dollars a year: In 2022 there were 25.4 million mishandled bags which cost the industry US$2.2 billion.
Can you share a few examples of successful automated baggage systems?
We’ve been working closely with European carrier Lufthansa to introduce a solution called WorldTracer Auto Reflight which automatically identifies bags that are not likely to make their connection and re-routes that bag on the existing tag. It is fully automated, with no human intervention. The system uses an algorithm in the background to pick up the next available routes and then the passenger receives notification of the flight information, and they have full visibility of that.
Introducing this one piece of automation can save the industry up to US$30 million; just by fixing that one problem.
What new innovations are on the radar?
We are always looking at ways to improve the process and we work really closely with airlines and airports on innovation from electronic bag tags to using artificial intelligence that would remove the need for tags altogether.
Baggage decoupling is another important innovation making use of off-airport check-in, where someone could collect your bag at home and deliver it to your hotel. What’s exciting about this is that it really reduces the time stress on airport staff while creating a seamless process for customers, who might then be more likely to walk through the airport, spend money or enjoy a meal in a restaurant. In the future, you might also find that you don’t even travel on the same flight as your baggage, or your bag might travel via train to your destination.