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Picking Up

Airline-airport partnerships are propelling the Baggage Improvement Program toward a successful conclusion

According to SITA, baggage mishandling rates have dropped 47% since 2007. Part of this reduction is due to the success of the IATA Baggage Improvement Program (BIP), which concludes at the end of 2012.

There have been several excellent airline-airport partnerships that have had a huge local impact on baggage handling (see case study panels). By extrapolating the information, it is possible to draw some general conclusions.

It’s clear that good baggage hygiene—how bags are accepted—is intrinsic to the successful completion of a bag journey. At check-in, damaged bags, mistagged luggage, and those with old tags still attached are most likely to cause problems.

“So much mishandling can be eliminated with good bag management at check-in,” says Andrew Price, Head of Baggage Services at IATA. “Part of this is educating passengers about what can and can’t be carried and how to properly pack fragile materials.”

The second key issue is tracking. Even with all the latest developments, it is still often the case that an airline doesn’t know exactly where a bag is–or even if it has arrived at an airport. “Bags should be scanned all along the journey so we can pinpoint exactly where they are in the system,” explains Price. “What we need is a better information infrastructure that allows airlines to know where a bag is at each point of the journey.”

There is also an additional reason to improve tracking–it will save airlines money. Considerable sums are paid out each year to compensate for lost bags, but with improved tracking, false claims would be far easier to detect. If a bag were scanned as it was put on to the carousel, it would be possible to determine if a bag was really lost or if it had been picked up by another passenger.

Beyond BIP

BIP has three goals for 2012. The first is to make diagnostic visits, where IATA teams study every aspect of baggage operations, at  80 airports. By the end of March, approximately 70 gateways had received a one-to-one visit so that particular goal will be easily fulfilled. The second is achieving 120 Self-Help airports. These are airports that work individually on baggage mishandling issues using the IATA BIP Self-Help Guide. Approximately 100 airports will have completed the Self-Help program by the end of the first quarter of 2012, so this target should be achieved long before the end of the year.

The third goal is not an IATA Board target, but it has been synonymous with BIP from the outset. This goal is to identify and offer solutions for at least 50% of industry baggage mishandling incidents. By the end of March 2012, BIP had reached about 35%, therefore, as the program nears its conclusion, it is thought the 50% target will be surpassed.

 The end of BIP, however, does not mean the end of IATA’s involvement in baggage handling issues. “Despite the enormous overall success of the BIP project, there has been a slight creep back in recent months,” says Price. “It’s vital for airlines to stay on top of baggage handling issues. We need to find a way of cementing into place the improvements already made.”

Technical issues are not the problem–the nature of machines and systems is such that they will not suddenly adopt a different way of working. Humans are not so predictable and their involvement in the process creates a more fluid situation. “We need some kind of quality oversight program for baggage and we’re discussing how to put this in place,” says Price.

Baggage is becoming a revenue stream in its own right, so this is important work for the future. For example, Alaska Airlines returns the $20 baggage fee back to its customer if the bag is not on the arrivals carousel within 20 minutes of landing. This is where Price’s call for a more comprehensive information infrastructure comes into play. For schemes such as Alaska’s, constant tracking and scanning are vital, as it would ensure validity of the scheme and allow all parties complete transparency.

Price says this is not about trying to catch out a ground handler or airport. “What if the incoming flight was late, but the airport still managed to have the bags make their connection?” he asks. “That will have saved the airline money and it’s a service that should be acknowledged.”

Overall, there is an extra level of sophistication that can be introduced to baggage handling. Vertical integration—giving passengers even more choice—is an element of this. For example, imagine a plane arriving 20 minutes late and a businessman needing to leave urgently to get to a meeting. For an appropriate fee it should be possible for him to send a message or use a kiosk asking for his bag to be sent on to his hotel.

“BIP was the foundation to ensure we have quality baggage services in future,” concludes Price. “There is plenty of innovation still to come.”

Aegean Airlines and Athens International Airport

A BIP diagnostic team visited Athens International Airport at the end of 2010 to help Aegean Airlines identify and solve baggage mishandling issues.

The following issues were identified:

  • Check-in processes
  • Build/make-up areas processes
  • Transfer baggage processes
  • The inject of baggage at arrivals
  • Reflight processes
  • Tagless baggage management

Highlighting a couple of issues shows the level of detail at play. Common to many other airports, the build/make-up area at Athens is relatively small. “The introduction of shelving has allowed our baggage process management to improve within the build/make-up area,” explains Aggelos Biliris, Supervisor, Human Resources Management, Aegean Airlines. “We are better organized to manage and prioritize baggage. Furthermore, the storage of bags that are checked-in earlier than the actual opening of the baggage chutes is now handled easier and more efficiently.”

With the inject of baggage at arrivals, bags were bunching, due to the way ground handlers would place baggage on to the carousels. This caused carousel blockages and potential system and baggage damage. The introduction of ground handler inject training and spacing dots on carousel belts has helped to guide the ground handler as to the placement and spacing of the bags.

“The IATA BIP team helped us identify a variety of issues along the process, from check-in to the loading of the aircraft, which may have seemed insignificant,” says Panos Nicolaidis, Ground Operations Director at Athens International Airport. “Taking simple actions, such as training courses and tours, or low budget adjustments in our sorting area, we were able to improve our performance, keeping more customers satisfied. And although customer satisfaction is our primary goal, at the same time, we reduced costs arising from Lost and Found procedures and baggage deliveries, not to mention the ground time improvements in a very demanding high season. We have found BIP very useful.”

US Airways and Boston Logan International Airport

Working at the behest of US Airways, an IATA BIP team identified 19 solutions to mishandling issues.

Key suggestions included:

  • Train check-in staff to rigorously apply cut-off times or baggage acceptance
  • Use of a baggage reconciliation system
  • Reinforce communication for international transfer passengers
  • Ensure collaboration between all partners to better manage interlining

A major issue at Boston Logan affects many other US carriers and gateways; international transfer passengers often do not know that they should collect their bags when they first arrive in the United States and then place them back into the system after a customs check. Greater communication is the answer with onboard announcements backed up by agents in the arrivals hall. With airline and airport involved in the solution, Boston managed to reduce its mishandling rate by 30%. “I am extremely proud that Boston has played a large part in leading the company to reduce the number of bags lost out of our particular station,” says Joanne Hendry, US Airways Fleet Service Agent.


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