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What You Should Know About Mishandled Checked Luggage on Airlines

Should Airlines Increase Fees for Checked Luggage?

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What You Should Know About Mishandled Checked Luggage on Airlines

About 656,000 checked airline bags were lost globally during 2008.

(c) Getty Images / Stockbyte
Updated June 19, 2014

During 2008 when airlines were developing checked baggage fees and new pricing schemes on a line item basis, more than 3 million bags were mishandled by U.S. airlines. Mishandled baggage – a problem that seems to plague passengers – is categorized as lost, damaged, delayed or pilfered airline baggage. American Airlines was the first U.S. airline to introduce a check baggage fee in 2008; United Airlines first introduced its checked luggage fees in August 2008 and increased its checked baggage fee schedule in June 2009.

The airline industry says that numbers have declined from previous years, and steps are being taken to consider the problem. But 32.8 million bags were mishandled by airlines globally in 2008 – an average of 90,000 bags per day, and that’s difficult to overlook.

The reality is that this mishandled baggage cost (USD) $2.96 billion in 2008, about $90 per bag – expenses that are factored into operating costs which are ultimately paid for by passengers. Surprisingly, about 2% of total mishandled bags were actually lost or stolen, an estimated 656,000 bags. This, according to the 2009 Baggage Report produced by SITA, a recognized provider of global information and telecommunication solutions for the air transport industry with corporate offices in Switzerland, The Netherlands and Belgium.

SITA acknowledges several causes for mishandled baggage:

  • Higher volumes of checked-bags
  • Insufficient staffing levels in baggage handling
  • Insufficient time between flights
  • Need for improvements in tracking and tracking technology
  • Additional changes needed in baggage handling processes and/or management

Suspected forms of airline employee baggage theft is also an issue that contributes to the problem. Recent examples include reported situations at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, George Bush International Airport in Houston, Lambert-Saint Louis International Airport, Pittsburgh International Airport and Portland International Airport,.

For event planners and business travelers who rely on airlines to participate in meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions, the combination of paying extra fees for a service that for a long time has resulted in lost, delayed or damaged items is viewed as aggravating and lacking customer focus.

Perhaps Checked Baggage Fees Should Reward Service

Why can airlines charge customers a separate line item charge for checked baggage? The opportunity exists because passengers place such a high level of importance to on-time arrival of baggage; the SITA report indicates that this is the second most important factor for passengers when it comes to travel (reducing pre-departure waiting time ranked the highest).

However, given the volume of mishandled baggage, some question why they should dig deeper into their wallets to pay higher fees for checked baggage, essentially rewarding the airlines with a revenue stream for a service that results in delayed or lost baggage into the tens of millions each year. The fees may also be seen by some as a revenue source that’s used to cover the operational expenses for a process that must improve.

Business travel accounts for 15% of all air travel, and 25% of business travel is related to the meetings industry for the U.S. domestic market, according to data from the U.S. Travel Association. Certainly many event planners and business travelers have experienced situations when delayed, damaged or lost baggage has resulted in empty trade show booths, the wearing of inappropriate attire for events, missing client gifts and more.

A worse case scenario for planners could happen when guests are invited to an incentive program or retreat, and the personal items of those guests get lost during this process.

Regardless of the circumstances, the mishandled baggage process remains the same: someone is going to have to submit a missing baggage report and check the status online until the items are recovered or a missing baggage claim report must be filed – giving airlines several weeks to process the situation.

Even if planners have their travel management departments step in when this happens, it is ultimately a process that requires a cost to those impacted on so many levels, including the time and resources spent resolving baggage issues and the claims documentation process that may require difficult to find receipts for all lost or damaged items that exceed $100 in value each. It's costly to the airlines, and it's costly to the individuals impacted who expect to receive at least the equivalent value for replacement costs.

Event and meeting planners are used to rewarding or penalizing supplier behavior, but event planners have little influence over this particular process, and mishandled baggage could result in stories that leave planners scrambling for backup solutions.

(continued on next page)

What You Should Know About Mishandled and Lost Airline Luggage, page 1
Should United Airlines’ Baggage Fees Raise Concern?, page 2
An In-Depth Look at Damaged and Lost Airline Luggage, page 3
Denied Boardings and Causes of Damaged and Lost Airline Luggage, page 4
What Is the Airlines Baggage Claims Process?, page 5

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