When it comes to the safety and care of passenger luggage, people generally consider air travel the safest. Rarely will you hear cases of lost luggage, especially among reputable brand names in the industry.
That is not to say luggage loss does not occur. Indeed SITA, the world’s leading air transport IT and communications specialists, reports that the world’s airlines lost an astonishing 25 million pieces of passenger luggage in 2009.
That translates to almost 3,000 bags every hour of every day, all year long! According to SITA, aircraft transfers account for 52% of these losses; loading failure causes 17%; ticketing errors, bag switch, security, or other issues contribute to 13%; and 7% occur when airports hold bags due to space or weight restrictions, customs, or bad weather.
The report further indicates that 7% of the losses occur due to loading or unloading errors; 4% result from arrival station mishandling and 4% are caused by tagging errors.
Despite these gloomy statistics, it is reassuring to know that at least 96.6% of all misplaced or missing bags do eventually reach their owners within the 100-day period spent on tracing and recovering 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 to 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 globally collects data from various airlines and attempts to match bags with their owners. The system uses tag numbers to match luggage in terms of luggage type, colour and brand. When a match is found, the item receives a ‘Rush Tag’. It is then forwarded to the nearest airport to you for onward delivery to your address.
If the tracer system does not produce results within the 100-day period, airlines will sadly auction off your bag, and the proceeds from such an auction apparently go to support some noble charitable cause out there.
Most airlines filter out expensive items like designer jewellery, electronics, watches, and similar items, selling them separately. The airlines sell off the majority of unclaimed items as a package.
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.
Buyers bid on items with little or no clue about their value, similar to History Channel’s Storage Wars. Eventually, your items may end up on eBay or another online platform, or they may never resurface, quickly becoming souvenirs for the bidders.
The most worrying aspect of this story is the growing base of evidence indicating that most airlines do not even follow the 100-day rule. Some airlines have gained a reputation for rushing traveller luggage to auction houses well before the 100 days have elapsed.
Some bidders have even reported finding contact details of the owners in certain items they acquired at auction houses. This leads to the conclusion that some airlines do not make sufficient efforts to connect lost luggage with its owners.
A lot is happening currently to reduce the chances of luggage loss. Recall, for instance, how mobile-based bag tracking helps travellers track the location of their bags directly from their mobile handsets. Now, other similar initiatives actively work to further reduce the rate of luggage loss while travelling between airports.
All said and done, the whole issue of luggage handling during travel needs to begin with us. Your level of responsibility for your luggage significantly affects whether you lose your bag or not. There are simple and basic precautions we could take to make the system even more fail-safe.
Reputable airlines provide free name tags passengers can quickly fill out and attach to their bags. They come with a handy elastic band. This is in addition to the usual bar-coded tag linked to your boarding pass. How many of us remember to use those ones?
Consider getting travel insurance to ensure compensation for lost luggage. The challenge with this one might be, how many travel insurance companies in Kenya offer this service?
Bags now in the market come with their own secure name tag holders. Get into the habit of using them – 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. If we do, the airline we have used will find it very easy to track it.