The Thanksgiving holiday was a time for fuming as well as feasting for air travelers who stood at carousels waiting in vain for their bags. According to a New York Times (NYT) report over the holidays, airlines mislay bags year round and the problem is getting worse. The report describes piecemeal fixes for parts of the baggage-handling system, not an ergonomic approach that tackles the whole.
The Air Transport Association estimated before Thanksgiving that 27 million people would fly during the 12 days surrounding the holiday – 4 percent more than last year.
One in every 138 checked bags went missing during the first nine months of this year, compared with one in 155 bags a year earlier. The Bureau of Transportation Statistics reported that American Airlines (AA), the biggest United States carrier, mislaid 7.44 bags for every thousand passengers through September 30. The figure is up from 6.04 for every thousand a year earlier, and the NYT notes that American’s bag-handling operation shows the company is making lots of little improvements but still losing ground.
The NYT, which reported the statistics, points out that American is not alone. All the big carriers have done worse with baggage so far in 2007, and the smaller regional airlines misplace bags at a even higher rate.
Bags failing to make connections account for 60 percent of mishandled bags, Denise Wilewski, a manager of airport services for AA, told the NYT. The airline’s workers in the past year stopped unloading entire planes in some instances, he explained, instead hauling off only bags that need to be rushed to connecting flights and then returning for the rest. American plans to install laptop computers on the tractors that pull baggage carts so that workers can keep abreast of gate changes, late arrivals and other complications.
About 2 percent of bags are incorrectly sorted because bar codes can be hard to read. Dirty printer heads have been found to contribute to the problem. Regular wiping of the heads helps, but even with a clean printer the bar code readers are only about 90 percent accurate.
According to the NYT, American and other domestic airlines have resisted investing in radio frequency identification tags, which are used by big retailers to track inventory and are far more accurate. “We don't lose enough bags to justify that investment," Mark Mitchell, American's managing director of customer experience, told the NYT.
For the unlucky Thanksgiving travelers whose bags failed to arrive, the airlines’ assurances that all but a small fraction of misplaced bags are eventually reunited with their owners might feel like little consolation for a load of inconvenience.
Source: New York Times