Air travel is largely regarded as the safest mode of transport, when it comes to the safety and care of passenger luggage. Rarely will you hear cases of lost luggage, especially among the reputable brand names in the industry.

That is not to say luggage loss does not occur. Indeed, according to a report by SITA, the world’s leading air transport IT and communications specialists, the world’s airlines lost a staggering 25 million pieces of passenger luggage in 2009.

That translates to almost 3,000 bags every hour of every day, all year long! SITA goes on to say that 52% of these losses occur during aircraft transfers; 17% are due to loading failure; 13% are caused by ticketing error, bag switch, security or other; 7% are either held by the airport due to space or weight restrictions, customs and bad weather.

The report further indicates that 7% of the losses occur due to loading or unloading error; 4% result from arrival station mishandling while 4% are caused by tagging error.

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In spite of these gloomy statistics, it is reassuring to know that at least 96.6% of all misplaced or missing bags do manage to reach their owners at some point within the 100 days that will be spent trying to trace and recover your lost luggage.

This however means that some 800,000 bags end up unclaimed. So what are the airlines and other bodies dealing with lost luggage doing during these 100 days to try and reunite your bag with you?

The first step an airline will take to try and trace your luggage is look for any obvious contact details attached or inside the luggage. Airline employees will open the luggage and check it for any form of identification among your items. If no obvious contact details can be found, most airlines will then turn to the World Tracer System.

The World Tracer System brings together data from various airlines globally and tries to use it to match bags to their owners. The system uses tag numbers to match luggage in terms of luggage type, colour and brand. When a match is made, the item is forwarded to the nearest airport to you bearing a ‘Rush Tag’ where it is then delivered to your contact address.

If the tracer system does not churn out something within the 100 day period, then sadly your bag will be auctioned off by airlines and the proceeds of such an auction apparently goes off to support some noble charitable cause out there.

Most of the unclaimed items are sold-off as a package although several airlines are known to filter out expensive items like designer jewellery, electronics, watches and the like and sell these separately.

There have been, however, claims that some of the items earmarked for auction never get to the auction houses because unscrupulous airline employees help themselves to the spoils.

In a similar fashion to History channel’s Storage Wars, buyers bid on items they have no or very little clue on their value. Ultimately your items may end up on eBay or some other on-line system or they may never see the light of day again as they quickly become souvenirs to the bidders.

Perhaps the most worrying side to this story is the growing base of evidence pointing to the fact that most airlines do not even heed to the 100-day rule. Some airlines have been known to rush traveller luggage to auction houses way before the 100 days have lapsed.

Bidders have even claimed they came across contact details of the owners in some of the items they purchased in the auction houses leading to the conclusion that some airlines do not try hard enough to connect lost luggage to its owners.

A lot is happening currently to reduce the chances of luggage loss. Recall for instance, a story we did a while ago about how mobile-based bag tracking is helping travellers track the location of their bags directly from their mobile handsets? That and many other similar initiatives are now in place to reduce even further the rate of luggage loss as one moves between airports.

All said and done, the whole issue of luggage handling during travel needs to begin with us. Whether you lose your bag or not, has a lot to do with your own level of responsibility to your luggage. There are simple and basic precautions we could take to make the system even more fail-safe.

For instance, at the very minimum, most reputable airlines, besides the usual bar-coded tag whose details are also captured on your boarding pass, give out free name tags with an elastic band you can quickly fill-out your contact details and wrap around your bag. How many of us remember to use those ones?

You could also take a travel insurance policy so that in the event you are not lucky to recover your luggage, the insurance company will compensate you for the loss. The challenge with this one might be, how many travel insurance companies are there in Kenya to offer this service?

Bags now in the market come with their own secure name tag holders you should make a habit of using – it is not showing-off! It is being extra careful. This way we can travel easier knowing we shall never part with our dear luggage at any one time and if we do, the airline we have used, will find it very easy to track it.