The global mishandled baggage rate spiked by 24% to 4.35 bags per thousand passengers in 2021 as the industry began its recovery from the pandemic, according to the SITA Baggage IT Insights 2022, released today.

The report shows passenger traffic has evolved since 2020, with most of the 2021 recovery being driven by domestic travel, but the resumption of international and long-haul flights is contributing to an increase in mishandling.

Transfer bags continue to account for most mishandled bags. An increase in long-haul flights with connections in 2021 has pushed up the bags delayed at transfer to 41%, which is four points increase from 2020. The mishandling rate at the global level on international routes is 8.7, yet only 1.85 for domestic routes.

Put differently, at a global level, the likelihood of mishandling a bag is about 4.7 times higher on international routes compared to domestic routes.

Delayed bags accounted for 71% of all mishandled bags in 2021 – a two point increase from 2020. At the same time, the number of lost and stolen bags increased slightly to 6%, while those damaged and pilfered decreased to 23%.

Airlines, ground handlers, and airports have downsized to maintain viability during the pandemic, which has impacted resources and expertise dedicated to baggage management. If this isn’t addressed, SITA warns, this challenge may see the mishandling rate continue to creep up and become much higher than it was pre-pandemic.

SITA’s newly appointed CEO, David Lavorel, commented: “The industry now needs to do more with less.

“As we emerge from the pandemic, our customers’ focus remains on safely managing the end-to-end transport of passengers’ baggage, but now they must also reduce the total cost and training required. There is significant pressure to increase operational efficiency, which is accelerating digitalisation.”

In 2021 investment in self-service initiatives continued to increase. A large majority of airports and almost all airlines are prioritising touchless bag tagging options that rely on kiosks and passengers’ mobile devices.

Implementation of unassisted bag drop is increasing, with 90% of airlines and three-quarters of airports planning to make touchless unassisted self-bag drop available by 2024.

Digitalisation, says SITA, also ensures that the recovery progresses efficiently, saving resources and ensuring operations can quickly adapt to fluctuating passenger numbers.

It states that “there is no better way to ensure efficiency in baggage operations than to avoid mishandling in the first place, preventing the additional costs and resources required to repatriate bags to their owners.”.

Lavorel said: “We will continue to collaborate and support the industry to reduce mishandled baggage rates while driving operational efficiencies and sustainable solutions when needed the most.”

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