It’s that time of year again when SITA updates us on the industry’s progress losing less (we hope) of our luggage. The results of SITA’s WorldTracer data for 2015 are good, but news on progress to eliminate baggage headaches in the future is better.

The total number of mishandled bags has been reduced by almost 5% — 23.1 million, compared to 24.3 million, in 2014.

That’s 6.53 bags per thousand passengers — 10.5% less per thousand passengers than last year. It’s also a historic low in baggage mishandling since SITA launched its baggage handling trends reports in 2003.

Missing bags cost the industry $2.3 billion in 2015, which is 3.75% less than 2014, but still a bundle of money.

By passenger, the cost of lost or missing luggage has dropped 9.7% to $0.65, also an all-time low. But, with IATA reporting that airlines made an global average profit of $5.42 per passenger in 2014, every penny counts.

Over the past few years, the industry has improved considerably in baggage handling. Back in 2007 the number of mishandled bags reached a peak of 46.9 million, which cost the industry $4.2 billion. But the number of lost bags has been cut by half over the last nine years and associated costs has been reduced by 45%.

Self-Help

Passengers are doing their part to improve the baggage handling process, by helping themselves to baggage drop solutions. But some parts of the world are more keen to adopt self-service than others.

The global average for adoption of self service bag drop systems is 20%.

Australian travellers are most likely to use self-service bag-drops than global counterparts.  In 2015, 26% of passengers traveling with luggage avoided check-in desk queues and headed straight for self-service machines.

The UK is close behind, with 24% of passengers using bag-drop technology. SITA expects more UK passengers will take up self-service bag drop this year.

In both Mexico and Brazil, where a majority of passengers check bags, about 1/4 of passengers in Mexico and 1/5 in Brazil used self bag-drop facilities where available.  Around 1/3 of passengers say they would use bag-drop on their next trip, SITA reports.

Most U.S. passengers still check bags at an airport desk, SITA says, but alternatives are growing in popularity. These include off-airport baggage drops and self-service bag-drops; currently used by 1/5 of U.S. passengers.

Chinese passengers have shown that they like self-service and automation solutions and have embraced mobile check-in, but SITA says most of those traveling with luggage still go to the check-in counter for their bags. Only 8% use automated baggage drops. SITA attributes this relatively low uptake to the service’s limited availability. About 1/3 of Chinese passengers have said they would use baggage-drop systems if they were available for their next flight.

Talking Luggage

Luggage is unlikely to phone home when gets lost, but it will come very close—by sending text messages or app notifications.

The looming June 2018 deadline for IATA’s Baggage Tracking Resolution 753 has helped motivate airlines to review new baggage tracking solutions, which will allow live tracing of bags throughout the journey, including live updates to passenger mobile devices.

There’s high demand for that service. SITA found that 96% of passengers would like to have baggage collection updates sent to them.

The aim is to go from lost bags to found bags—even if bags are found where they weren’t supposed to be.

Airlines hope that knowing your bag took an unexpected detour in Hong Kong, but is on its way, will help you better enjoy the beach at Cancun; as will getting a quick message when the wayward bag has finally been delivered to your hotel.

It will also save them costs of finding luggage and handling claims. By 2018 about 60% of airlines expect to offer baggage status updates to passenger smart devices.

Baggage tracking technology is also under review, ranging from RFID embedded tags similar to those used today, to fancy digital tags sold separately or embedded in top-of-the-line luggage.

Some airlines are “soft-launching” these types of electronic home-printed bag-tags, but the issue is figuring out which of the various digital systems will be most reliable, and have the greatest adoption rate from customers.

It looks like 2016 is the year electronic bag-tags come into their own, following IATA and Airlines for America approval of coordinated standards for these devices prepared in 2014, and work carried out by the industry to iron out the inevitable technical wrinkles.

“Using Bluetooth Low Energy with safeguards to prevent transmission in flight, and non-lithium batteries has allowed for some of these tags to now enter the market, and they have been well received by passengers who use them.” said Andrew Price, Head of Airport Operations Management, IATA.

For now, the problem is that these high-end baggage gadgets appeal to very frequent flyers and affluent flyers, leaving everyone else with the basic solutions already used today–upgraded with RFID chips–to meet Resolution 753 baggage tracking requirements.

This variance leaves airports looking for baggage handling solutions that can accommodate a variety of baggage tags. The industry is currently reviewing a “mass market” home printed bag tag solution, though it is early days.

No Tag, No Problem

When tags get damaged, or become unreadable by baggage processing scanners, or are simply broken off, your bag could arrive on time in Kathmandu before your delayed flight lands in Connecticut. The industry is exploring tracing solutions which would help find your bag even if ‘the dog’ ate your tag.

“Tagless bags represent a serious cost to the airlines and a major disappointment to the passenger, as unlike the vast majority of mishandled bags that are eventually returned to the passenger, these bags are the ones that are most likely to be truly lost,” said Price. “There are long standing simple solutions, such as name and address tags written and attached to the bag at the check-in. These have their own drawbacks though — the time to complete them delays the flow of passengers, and the inclusion of names, phone numbers and addresses on the outside of the bag introduces privacy concerns and an opportunity for social engineering attacks.”

“Frequent flyers have attached their cards to their bags as additional methods of identification, which have been used to trace bags to owners in SITA WorldTracer and recently luggage tagging companies have emerged to try and provide an additional means to identify the bag’s owner without giving away personal information on the bag. To assist the baggage tracing community, SITA pioneered a new integration service with these luggage tag companies called the Unique Identification Service (UIS). The anonymous tag, when found on the bag, is entered into WorldTracer, which then can use this as an additional means to provide a strong tracing match to return the bag to the owner while notifying the passenger via the luggage tag company.”

Photo Credit: Luggage arrival at Paris' Orly airport. Skift