Baggage claim conveyor belt


April 11, 2017

A couple months ago, I was flying from Seattle to Minneapolis. Loaded down with my one allowed carry-on and personal item, I was walking down the jetway to board the plane when a stewardess came walking up the jetway telling people we had to start checking carry-on luggage because there was no room in the overhead bins.

I started panicking – a medium-sized panic, but a panic nonetheless. I always go carry-on; I get nervous when other people handle my bags, even people I know. And now I was going to have to check my bag.

As Tony the Tiger has said many a time in a similar situation, Grrreeat.

I’ve heard the statistics about the low numbers of mishandled baggage. Worldwide during 2016, only 5.7 bags per 1,000 passengers were mishandled. It’s a 12 percent drop from 2015, and the lowest it’s been since 2003, when SITA began tracking and reporting on baggage handling.

Five and three-quarters out of a thousand is a good statistic, but do the math and that still equals 21.8 million bags mishandled in 2016.

For someone like me who doesn’t trust anyone with their bag, 21.8 million is a lot, even if it is (that poor three-quarters of a bag) out of a thousand.

Dark plane interior with light coming through windowPhoto credit: Angelo Abear via Unsplash.

Some airlines are doing something to keep these numbers down, whether by just getting better at handling bags or by providing ways passengers can see where their bags are located:

  • Southwest is extremely diligent about making sure bags get to where they’re supposed to go. Customer-service agents check and double-check that bags are tagged correctly, and then when the bags are being loaded on the aircraft, the tags are manually read and verified they’re in the right place. Southwest doesn’t currently offer any sort of online tracking, but that doesn’t mean the airline isn’t looking into it.

  • American Airlines has baggage tracking for its customers. You can go on the AA website, enter your information and see where your bag is at—all thanks to the six checkpoints your bag has to pass through between check-in and baggage claim.

  • United has baggage tracking. Enter your file reference number and your last name to see whether your bag is delayed.

  • Then there’s Delta. Instead of a barcode that needs to be scanned by a handheld scanner, Delta now has hands-free scanners throughout the entire handling process. Plus, if you use the Fly Delta app, you can get push notifications when your bags get on and off the plane. All of this means Delta’s baggage processing has a 99.9% success rate.

  • Self-service baggage checks have also improved the mishandled-baggage situation. Having passengers put their own tags on their bags eliminates the factor of a distracted employee who’s been slapping on tags all day. They aren’t popular in the U.S. yet (though Alaska Airlines has rolled them out), but Australia and the U.K. love them.

This sounds fine and dandy, but if you’re flying with a carrier that doesn’t seem to do well tracking bags, you just want a little something extra, or if you're just serially forgetful, there are personal baggage trackers. 

Plane flying under red cloudsPhoto credit: Nathan Nelson via Unsplash.

There are dozens of ways for you to keep track of your bags. Plans designed specifically for tracking luggage while traveling often use tags that require the finder to call or enter information online, like I-Trak or Global Bag Tag.

Other trackers like LugLoc or TrakDot have you put a small device into your bag, at which point you can see its location on your phone.

And finally, other brands just want you to find any and all of your stuff, and can obviously be used to track luggage. These plans include Tile, PocketFinder, or HomingPIN.

My heart hammered the entire time I stood at the baggage claim waiting for my silver duffle bag to appear. Had I known I’d have to check my bag and send it into the abyss beyond the carousel, I would have gotten AirCare® or ExactCare® Extra™ from BHTP. If your bag is lost, you get $500.

That’s nice if you’re stuck and need a toothbrush or a change of clothes or a book … because all of yours were in the bag you were forced to check.

It’s times like those that put the “ug” in “luggage.”

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