Mishandled baggage costs $2.5 billion

The air transport industry is losing in the region of $2.5 billion annually because of misconnects and mishandled baggage, according to SITA, the travel IT provider.It has also been revealed that for the first time the number of bags lost or stolen is running at about 204,000 per annum on current calculations that 30 million bags are mishandled annually based on passenger numbers of two billion.

In an annual review, SITA reports that the problem of mishandled baggage is worsening on both sides of the Atlantic due to airport congestion, tight turnaround times, increased interlining, security regulations and mounting passenger and baggage volumes which introduce delays and complicate handling procedures.

Francesco Violante, Managing Director said: “In 2005 the industry lost in the region of $2.5 billion on mishandled baggage when you take into account the costs involved in reuniting the delayed baggage with its owner which, happily, is the case over 99% of the time. This year we will reach the two billion passenger landmark which on current trends will translate into 30 million pieces of mishandled baggage.”

“Growth is welcome but it has to be better managed if airlines and airports want to improve the passenger experience by eliminating delays from the system. The industry needs more sophisticated baggage reconciliations systems and greater use of self-service such as check-in through kiosks and on the web. This will all help to simplify travel, reduce delays and baggage misconnections.”

SITA facilitates communications between airlines and local baggage handling and reconciliation systems to ensure bags reach their correct destination, and its proprietary BagMessage system delivered over 750 million messages between airline Departure Control Systems and automated baggage systems in 2005.


The company also developed with IATA, the industry-standard, fully automated system for tracing lost and mishandled baggage, known as WorldTracer which is used by 391 airlines and ground-handling companies worldwide. This worldwide inventory allows the company to provide detailed analysis of the causes of delayed baggage.

In 2005, the single largest cause of baggage delay was in transfer baggage mishandling, 61%. This was followed by failure to load, 15%; ticketing error/ passenger bag switch/ security/ other, 9%; loading/offloading error, 4%; space-weight restriction, 5%; arrival station mishandling, 3%, and tagging errors, 3%.

SITA also found that the average delayed baggage file is open for 1.3 days or 31.2 hours from the time the bag is reported missing to when it is found and restored to its owner.

In Europe last year, 21% of flights were delayed and irregularities in baggage delivery performance were experienced for up to 14.1 bags per thousand passengers compared to 13.9 in 2004 (Source: Association of European Airlines Consumer Report).

On time arrivals were also down in the US last year where 22.6% of flights were delayed and mishandled baggage reports were 6.04 per thousand passengers compared to 4.91 two years ago, an increase of 23%. (Source: US Department of Transportation.).

The SITA report points out that “Routing more traffic through central hubs also means that small problems at one site can rapidly snowball out of control, impacting baggage transfers at other destinations down the line.”

It recommends that markets where mishandled baggage is a problem “would be better served by adopting technologies such as Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tagging and bag reconciliation systems to track baggage at various points throughout the bag’s journey.” RFID means fewer bags have to be handled manually and improves security

A recent survey by SITA - in partnership with the Airports Council International and Airline Business magazine - found that RFID tags are being used for baggage handling in just 6% of airports surveyed but also identified an expectation that RFID tags will be used in 45% of airports by the end of 2009.

SITA has developed an integrated, end-to-end baggage reconciliation system which combines RFID, Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN) and highly redundant IP-based global links to ensure baggage gets to its destination with the minimum of fuss.

SITA’s report also spells out the security benefits of having good baggage reconciliation systems: “Constant and accurate tracking of all bags also helps impromptu reconciliation of passengers and their bags should either be subsequently identified as a potential risk after the point of acceptance.”

Bag reconciliation reduces aircraft delays through quicker off-loading in the case of no-shows and automatically redirects bags that missed their connection onto alternative flights. SITA’s BagManager systems keeps constant track of baggage and passenger movements in over 30 of the world’s largest airports.