The air transport industry is losing US$2.5 billion a year because of lost luggage, a company which tracks the problem said yesterday.
An estimated 30 million bags go astray annually, and about 204,000 of them are stolen or lost for good, said SITA, a Geneva-based IT company which helps track baggage information worldwide.
In its annual review, SITA said that the problem of mishandled suitcases was worsening as airport congestion grew, passengers increasingly change airlines during a single journey, turnaround times get tighter, security regulations are beefed up and baggage volumes mount in line with booming passenger numbers.
Francesco Violante, managing director of SITA, said: "In 2005 the industry lost in the region of US$2.5 billion on mishandled baggage when you take into account the costs involved in reuniting the delayed baggage with its owner which, happily, is the case over 99 percent of the time."
"Growth is welcome but it has to be better managed if airlines and airports want to improve the passenger experience by eliminating delays from the system," Violante said in a statement.
He said the industry needed to adopt more sophisticated baggage tracking systems and give passengers more self-service options, including Internet check in.
"This will all help to simplify travel, reduce delays and baggage misconnections," he said.
SITA, working with the international airline body IATA, has developed an industry-standard system for hunting down lost and mishandled baggage.
Known as World Tracer, it is used by 391 airlines and ground handling firms around the world.
Based on data gathered by the system, SITA said that last year the largest single reason for baggage delay was mishandling during transfers: It represented 61 percent of cases.
Next was failure to load baggage (15 percent). Ticketing mistakes, accidental bag swaps between passengers and security controls accounted for a total of 9 percent each.
Those reasons were followed by baggage falling foul of space and weight restrictions (5 percent), errors in loading and unloading baggage (4 percent), mishandling at the arrival airport (3 percent) and tagging mistakes (3 percent).
SITA also found that it took an average of 31.2 hours from the time the bag was reported missing to when it is found and restored to its owner.
In Europe last year, 21 percent of flights were delayed and irregularities in baggage delivery performance were experienced for up to 14.1 bags per thousand passengers compared with 13.9 in 2004, SITA said.
On-time arrivals were also down in the US: 22.6 percent of flights were delayed and reports of mishandled baggage were 6.04 per thousand passengers compared with 4.91 two years ago, said SITA, citing figures from the US Department of Transportation.
"Routing more traffic through central hubs also means that small problems at one site can rapidly snowball out of control, impacting baggage transfers at other destinations down the line," SITA said.
The air industry has begun using tiny radio transmitters on passengers' luggage in order better to track baggage and prevent it from going astray.
Such radio frequency identification schemes are being used for baggage handling in just 6 percent of airports surveyed. The system is expected to be adopted in almost half of airports by the end of 2009, SITA said.
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