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The Story of Lost Luggage

The film “The Terminal” by Steven Spielberg starring Tom Hanks is said to have been inspired by a true story of a man who lived in Terminal One of the Charles de Gaulle airport, Paris, from 1988 until 2006. The man was Mehran Karimi Nasseri. He was marooned in the airport for 18 years after he lost his luggage containing his refugee papers.

Lost Luggage

Fast forward to year 2016, Société Internationale de Télécommunications Aéronautiques (SITA) released a report showing that a total of 21.6 million items of luggage were either mishandled or permanently lost in that year. SITA is a company that produces reports on the status of baggage handling all over the world. The figure provided translates to a total of 5.73 bags lost for every 1,000 passengers.

Your Friendly Service Desk
Luggage Direct, an established luggage retailer, advises travelers to immediately report any missing luggage to airport service desk personnel to avoid spending long hours waiting in airport lounges. The staff will conduct an electronic search using the airline tracing system to immediately locate your luggage. The electronic tag attached to your bag when it was checked in will be used to trace it.

Lost Luggage - Tips for Choosing Luggage

You could have to wait for at least 36 hours before you get reunited with your belongings. During the waiting period, the airline is bound to reimburse whatever essential purchases made and losses incurred by you while waiting for your luggage. Some airlines give themselves 21 days to find a reported lost bag before it is officially declared irretrievably lost.

Mishandled Luggage
SITA cited several reasons why an item of luggage gets lost. It is important to note however that the term ‘lost’ does not necessarily mean your luggage is lost permanently. It could also mean that the baggage was just mishandled and cannot be retrieved by its owner within a specified period of time. The report cited transfer mishandling, failure to load, ticketing error, and tagging error as the main culprits why luggage is lost in transit.

Luggage Direct says that the huge number of lost travel bags could significantly be reduced if travelers use luggage that is fitted with GPS trackers or proximity sensors. Often, airport staff and crew get overwhelmed by heavy workload making them susceptible to committing mistakes. A built-in luggage tracker will definitely make it easier for travelers to locate their mishandled bags independently of the efforts made by the airline.

Tracking Your Luggage
You have waited long enough beside the baggage carousel and most passengers have already left, but your luggage is nowhere in sight. You waited for another 10 minutes, but still your bag did not appear. Chances are, your luggage did not make it to your plane’s cargo hold or has been loaded to another flight.

Major airlines use the World Tracer System to track lost luggage. Using the luggage description and journey history you have provided, your airline will try locate your luggage 24/7 for 90 to 100 days. The tracer system searches its database of recovered luggage for possible matches. If a possible match is found and confirmed to be your lost bag, the airline will immediately facilitate the return of your luggage.

The Business of Checked Luggage
Checked luggage has provided major airlines with millions of dollars in additional income. Not so long ago, passengers did not have to pay for checked luggage. At the time, it would have been understandable why a huge number of luggage items were mishandled. Checked luggage was free which in some cases meant luggage handling wasn’t adequately provided with sufficient funding to ensure that mistakes weren’t made.

Recently however, many airlines decided to charge a fee for checked baggage which made it a multibillion-dollar business overnight. The money collected allowed airlines to hire more airport cargo crew as well as purchase high-end luggage handling systems.

The additional fee also deterred some passengers from bringing with them more luggage. As a result, 99 percent of checked bags arrived along with their owners, while mishandled bags were returned to owners within two days. However, there is still a significant number of mishandled items of luggage being reported every day.

What this means is that airlines, despite the many improvements implemented, still don’t have total control of the luggage chain. It, therefore, behooves every traveler to be fully aware of their airline’s protocol in case they lose their baggage to avoid being marooned without changing clothes at a destination halfway across the world.

For those who have plans of traveling to countries in Asia, SITA’s report has some good news. The report showed the baggage mishandling rates of three major continents namely North America, Asia, and Europe. Asia ranks as having the lowest incidence of lost or mishandled baggage with only 1.81 mishandled bags per 1,000 passengers. North America follows with 2.7 mishandled bags per 1,000 passengers. Europe trails behind with 8.06 mishandled bags per 1,000 passengers.

Where Does Lost Luggage Go
If you fail to secure your luggage within 90 days after it was reported missing, it will likely share the fate of thousands of other unclaimed bags that will be auctioned. Auction houses that sell unclaimed luggage are found in various parts of the world. The profits made from the sale go to charities. Travelers who have lost a bag or two on one of their journeys may find consolation in knowing that the luggage they lost might have helped feed a hungry mouth somewhere.

One thought on “The Story of Lost Luggage”

  1. Luggage with built-in GPS trackers was a great idea, but now some airlines are banning ‘smart bags’ because of the fire risk from their lithium-ion batteries. It is likely that luggage manufacturers will respond to this by making smart bags with removable batteries (those will still be permitted to be checked in) but this will mean the GPS tracker won’t work until the batteries are put back in at the other end – which defeats the purpose of having a GPS tracker to help find the luggage if it is lost en route.

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