It is time to rebuild passenger confidence in checked baggage

Recently, I was on a flight that was severely delayed with most passengers trying to bring their luggage into the cabin. There was simply no space on board. The flight ended up leaving more than an hour late.
No doubt fears of their bags being misplaced or long delays waiting at the baggage carousel were weighing heavily on most passengers’ minds. They no longer felt confident checking their baggage.
What are the numbers telling us?
Data from the latest SITA Baggage IT Insights report confirms a spike in baggage mishandling emerging from the pandemic. Over the past year, we’ve seen a swifter-than-expected recovery of passenger demand, particularly for international travel. The latest data from IATA shows global traffic for April 2023 to have reached 90.5% of April 2019 levels, with traffic surges at holiday periods matching and even surpassing pre-pandemic levels.
This has coincided with airlines, airports, and ground handlers still suffering staff and resource shortages, along with a lack of baggage experience and expertise in new staff. The 2023 Baggage IT Insights report shows the global rate of mishandled bags per thousand passengers jumped 74.7% from 2021 to 2022, reaching 7.6.
One of the biggest pain points contributing to this is transfers, where bags are connected from one flight to another. The proportion of mishandled bags delayed at transfer increased to 42%, owing to the resurgence of international and long-haul travel. The likelihood of mishandling a bag on international routes is about eight times higher compared to domestic routes due to the challenges at transfer.
Rebuilding passenger confidence: digitalisation is the key
The industry recognizes that restoring passengers’ confidence to check their baggage is a top priority. Digitalisation has proven a tried-and-true lever to achieve this while boosting operational efficiency and customer satisfaction. Wide implementation of technologies for the automated tracking and repatriation of baggage contributed to a 70% drop in the mishandling rate from 2007 to 2019.
Airlines and airports have already been investing in IT solutions that deliver greater automation and self-service to tackle the current challenges. According to SITA’s 2022 Air Transport IT Insights, by 2025, 84% of airlines plan to provide real-time baggage status information to their staff and 67% plan to offer this to passengers. In addition, touchless bag tagging options that rely on kiosks and passengers’ mobile devices are a priority for 98% of airlines and 95% of airports.
We know that passengers embrace this too: SITA’s 2022 Passenger IT Insights report found that greater technology adoption giving passengers more autonomy and control in baggage processes correlates with more positive emotions from passengers. From 2016 to 2022, technology adoption at the bag collection stage rose from zero to 29% of passengers receiving mobile notifications for bag collection. In the same period, passengers reported a 9% increase in positive emotions at bag collection.
Identifying and addressing key pain points in the baggage journey
The post-pandemic recovery has thrown into stark relief the key challenges airports are facing along the baggage journey, and the major advantages of having greater visibility and digitalization across the whole value chain. At SITA, we continue to work directly with airlines and airports to help resolve key pain points in the journey through smart automation, tracking, and digital platforms, with the aim of restoring passengers’ confidence to check in their bags.
For example, in partnership with Lufthansa, we have developed the WorldTracer Auto Reflight system in direct response to the high mishandling rates observed at transfer. This collaborative innovation uses digital automation to suggest suitable routing for rush bags and informs the baggage system of new bag routing using the original bag tag. It proactively informs the passenger upon arrival of any delay, allowing them to save time by bypassing baggage collection and tracking their bag’s new journey and delivery via mobile.
The results of the recent Proof of Concept suggest that we can automatically reflight as much as 70% of Lufthansa’s mishandled bags at Munich Airport. With repatriation of mishandled bags costing an estimated $150 per bag, we estimate that automation of reflight operations could save the industry up to $30 million per year.
Elsewhere we’re working to provide end-to-end visibility of the whole baggage journey, eventually ensuring passengers can track their bags in the same way they would track the delivery of a parcel. We have worked closely with our industry partners to develop solutions like SITA Bag Manager, which scans and evaluates every bag that is loaded onto a plane, a ULD, or a cart, and SITA Bag Journey, which transforms baggage processing information from each step of the journey into a chronological, user-friendly view of what has happened to the bag.
With smart technology like this on their side, airlines and airports are equipped to provide both staff and passengers a precise, real-time view of where bags are at each step of the journey, via mobile for maximum convenience, allowing them to breathe easy with their bags checked.

Nicole Hogg is Director of Baggage, SITA

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