The Wall Street Journal had an interesting article about the effort airline and airports make to reduce lost bags. (“Airline Industry Gets Smarter With Bags”, Wall Street Journal, Sep 30th). In particular, the article discusses the way carriers and airports use scanners, radio tags and software to improve tracking of luggage.
First, for the numbers:
SITA estimates that almost 33 million bags — roughly 1.4% of all checked bags — were mishandled world-wide last year. Airlines spent $100 on average for each mishandled bag to track, ship and reimburse passengers.
Maybe what I am going to say is unfair, but I am sometimes amazed by the extent to which service organizations are lagging in adopting best practices to improve customer service.
The article discusses three initiatives to reduce the percentage of lost bags by Lufthansa in Frankfurt airport:
1. Use RFID to track bags: Many airlines use barcodes to track bags, but since up to 15% of bar codes get misread, Lufthansa started using RFID tags which are 99% accurate.
2. Priorities: according to the article, half of the lost bags are stranded due to missing a connection. The solution:
At Lufthansa’s Frankfurt operations center, two staffers — each with six monitors and two keyboards — do nothing but monitor arrivals and departures for passengers with little time to change planes. Software trolls reservations and real-time air-traffic data for potential problems, dubbed “hot” bags. Two Lufthansa staffers — each with six computer screens — flag hot bags to a Fraport staffer nearby, who sends word to loaders.
3. Improve coordination between the airport and the airline:
Lufthansa and Frankfurt Airport are exceptional in how they coordinate between the airport and airline in the way employ technology, especially on tight transfers,” says Andrew Price, who runs the Baggage Improvement Program
And the only thought that crossed my mind while reading this article (and recalling the number of times I lost my luggage on my way to a ski-trip, a job market talk, just a vacation, on the way home, etc, etc, etc) is: aren’t these the three most obvious steps one would take to improve this problem. (I hope all of my former students are nodding now in agreement).