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Travelers at the Airport rolling luggageBaggage check-in is, inescapably, one of the most time-consuming and frustrating elements of taking any flight. No matter how hard airline staff and those of other carriers work to streamline the process, it’s impossible to eliminate the manual element of the passenger having to hand the items which they wish to be placed in the hold of their plane to a member of their airline’s staff, and for it to be logged into their computer system and given a unique code which, in theory, ensures that it travels on the right plane, and is ready to be collected at its destination when the passenger arrives.

Items getting lost in transit happens relatively rarely. For example, according to the American Department of Transportation, 7.25 bags in every 1,000 didn’t reach their destination at the first attempt in the first nine months of 2007. Worldwide, that figure is more than double that, at 18 bags per 1,000 not getting through first time, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

With nearly two-thirds of those losses occurring when a passenger’s route involves changing between planes, it’s clear that this – and specifically, a lack of time between connecting flights – is the single biggest contributory factor to luggage going astray.

Why Do Bags Go Missing?

Transfers account for the greatest proportion of luggage mishandling.

  • Misconnected at flight transfer point (52%)
  • Failure to load (16%)
  • Ticketing error/bag switch/security/other (13%)
  • Loading/offloading error (7%)
  • Airport/customs/weather/space-weight restriction (6%)
  • Arrival station mishandling (3%)
  • Tagging error (3%)

Automated ticketing systems for baggage

Automated ticketing systems for bagging, which see a unique ticket being printed out and attached to each bag as it is checked in, should, in theory, go a long way towards eliminating lost baggage. And the truth is that they certainly play a role in tracing a bag which ends up on the wrong carousel or trolley on its journey. One way of trying to eliminate this is to ensure that the tag on your bag contains the details of your correct flight. Where staff from the airline operating your flight also hand the check-in procedure there is less risk of this happening, but at some airports this is in the hands of their own staff, so it pays to be wary in these instances.

Multiple tracing factors for luggage

Lost luggage is most usually traced through a combination of the information contained on the tag issued when it is checked in, and the unfortunate passenger’s description of it as given to the airline. This is why you will see many seasoned travelers toting luggage which has clearly seen better days. They know that, to begin with, their bags will be less attractive to anyone who might be tempted to make it ‘go missing’ in transit, but also that it is more easily spotted by them in the hurly-burly of baggage reclaim areas.

So any airline or bagging handling company’s attempt to trace a lost item will be helped greatly if they are given an accurate and detailed description of the bag or case, because if computer systems have failed to turn up the missing bag, then it will be down to the initiative and observation of the airline and baggage handling company’s staff themselves to locate it.

Human elements

Checking-in baggage is, to a large degree, a mechanical process, but with human elements which also add to the risk of something going wrong. Recovering lost luggage is similar, but in reverse, with the electronic records issued when a bag is checked in being examined manually to try to find clues as to where the item has finished up.

So there are a few handy pieces of advice which all travellers should follow to minimise the risk of their bags going astray. Foremost is to place a tag with your name, address and phone number inside every piece of luggage, as this will help in an instance when a luggage tag has gone missing. Also, airport x-ray machines can easily detect items which look suspicious, but aren’t at all, such as an alarm clock. Finally, you can never have too many labels or other unique identifiers on your luggage, and the more you can tell the airline and baggage handling staff about if your case goes missing, the better chance they have of ensuring a happy reunion.

Featured images:

Hayley Spring is a freelance travel blogger who highly recommends Left Baggage for sourcing and tracking any lost or delayed luggage

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