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How much baggage gets lost at international airports?

It's a traveler’s worst nightmare: you are the last person standing at the baggage reclaim when slowly, you realize that your luggage is not coming at all. If your baggage is lost on your outbound flight, you immediately face extra costs. You'll have replacement clothing and toiletries to buy, and then the challenges you'll face when returning home.

Is this an issue faced by travelers worldwide? And how do you get your baggage back if it's lost? Taxi2Airport decided to look into this issue as a follow-up to the recent SITA-report: ‘Baggage IT Insights 2019’.

How much baggage is lost worldwide?

Worldwide, the number of passengers choosing to fly increased by 76 percent over a decade, from 2.48 billion in 2007 to 4.36 billion in 2018. Where the number of baggage issues totalled 46.9 million in 2007, this number actually fell in 2013 to around 22 million pieces of baggage either lost or damaged. However, the problem has grown again over the last six years - reaching around 25 million reported issues in 2018.

 

The number of problems with baggage fell for several years, despite the huge increase in passenger numbers. The decrease was mainly due to better infrastructure, smarter sorting techniques, and new automated processes. However, it has been rising more recently due to an even larger increase in the number of airline passengers.

Issues with baggage defined

Baggage issues can be defined as: delayed baggage, damaged baggage, baggage of which (part of the) content is obscured and the most inconvenient for travelers: lost or stolen baggage. Fortunately, this last category limits to only 5 percent of the total issues, but still amounts to no less than 1.25 million pieces of baggage per year.

 

Issues with baggage

A small proportion of issues with baggage is caused by malfunctions within systems (3 percent). Last year large-scale incidents were reported at several European airports. For example, Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, London Gatwick and Heathrow Airport all had major problems with their baggage systems last summer, leaving passengers without their luggage for days, or not receiving it at all.

List of issues

  • Issues with transfer 46%
  • Issues with loading 16%
  • Errors with ticket or security 16%
  • Customs and Weather 9%
  • Errors on the tag 5%
  • Issues with arrival 5%
  • Error with systems 3%

Continental differences

Europe has the largest share of baggage issues with about 7.3 million pieces affected over the last year. This makes Europe the largest worldwide contributor. North America had 2.85 million pieces of baggage with issues and Asia totaled about 1.8 million pieces.

The worldwide share of problems has remained static since 2007. At the time, Europe had 16.6 million pieces of baggage with issues, in retrospect, North America had issues with 7 million pieces and Asia had issues with 3 million pieces.

 

What does the future look like?

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) recently agreed upon a resolution with its affiliated members, including airlines and airports, to fully track baggage from A to B in order to reduce the number of items with issues. Eventually, all connected members will implement a system that uses RFID-chips over the next couple of years.

For example, travelers can use their smartphones to track their baggage in real-time and see exactly where their luggage is in the sorting process. This causes less stress at the baggage reclaim and hopefully fewer items becoming lost or stolen.

Lost baggage, what to do?

Airports generally have lost and found departments, where you can hopefully reclaim your lost items of baggage. However, as a traveler, you should not wait too long, because after a certain time your luggage can, in some cases, become the property of the airport.

For example, Schiphol Airport has a policy that lost baggage becomes their property after three months. Schiphol auctions these items four times a year at the Veilinghuis de Eland auction house in Diemen. Other airports such as Barcelona-El Prat Airport and Aeroporti di Roma have similar policies.