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Lost luggage showing signs of recovery after hitting 10-year high

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A stock image of luggage at the airportIMAGE SOURCE,GETTY IMAGES

Baggage mishandling rates last year hit the highest in a decade globally as the airline industry scrambled to recover after the pandemic, a report shows.

Some 26 million pieces of luggage were lost, delayed or damaged in 2022 – nearly eight bags in every 1,000.

But new data seen by the BBC indicates the situation is improving as passenger numbers return to pre-pandemic levels.

This was down to more airport staff and automation technology, said Sita, which handles IT systems for 90% of airlines.

But that is no consolation to Chloe, whose bag got lost when she flew from the UK to Italy for a friend’s wedding.

Instead of sightseeing, the 27-year-old from Croydon said she spent the first hours of her holiday frantically running around the shops in search of emergency toiletries and clothes.

Chloe with EasyJet airline luggage receiptIMAGE SOURCE,CHLOE
Image caption,

Chloe has not seen her suitcase since she checked it in at Gatwick on 1 August and flew to Pisa in Italy

“It was a lot of stress I didn’t particularly want on my first holiday since 2014,” she said. “It also tainted the experience of seeing my friend get married… which is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Chloe flew from Gatwick to Pisa with EasyJet on 1 August but her suitcase did not arrive on the baggage carousel. She filled in paperwork at the airport but then had to jump on a train to Florence where her friend was getting married.

Chloe said she was thankful she had packed her outfit for the wedding in her hand luggage.

“But there was the rest of my holiday and events around the wedding like a barbecue and a pool party where I didn’t really feel comfortable having photos taken with me in the same outfit all the time,” she said.

Chloe wearing the same clothes in three holiday photosIMAGE SOURCE,CHLOE
Image caption,

Chloe said losing her suitcase meant she was wearing the same clothes in every holiday photo

EasyJet has apologised to Chloe and said it will keep looking for her bag for 45 days before changing its status from delayed to lost.

“That means I’m in limbo because I can’t put a claim in for compensation from EasyJet or my travel insurance until they say it’s lost,” she said.

Chloe said the total value of her case and its contents was about £1,000. “Some of it I’ve already had to buy again because there are things I need on a day-to-day basis so I’m already out of pocket,” she said.

“You do get £25 per person per day for up to three days from EasyJet for toiletries and basic clothing. But that doesn’t go very far.”

The UK watchdog, the Civil Aviation Authority, said the maximum most airlines pay out is about £1,000 but added: “It would be very rare for you to receive this much.”

It also warned that airlines judge the value of an item on its age when lost, not how much it costs to buy new, so it might be better to claim via travel insurance.

‘Baggage mountains’

Airlines must track every piece of luggage at various points during its journey using the barcode on the luggage tag, according to Sita.

Last year was the first summer that holidaymakers returned in droves after Covid travel restrictions were eased.

But many airports and airlines that had made cuts during the pandemic struggled to recruit staff including baggage handlers quickly enough.

The number of bags that were delayed, lost or damaged jumped to 7.6 pieces of luggage per 1,000 passengers in 2022, Sita’s latest baggage insights report found.

This was the highest rate since 2012 when the overall figure was 26.3 million – nearly nine pieces mishandled per 1,000 passengers. The figure before the pandemic in 2019 was nearly six pieces per 1,000 passengers.

The report found the increase in 2022 was down to issues during transfers from flight to flight, which accounted for 42% of lost, damaged or delayed baggage.

BagsIMAGE SOURCE,STUART DEMPSTER
Image caption,

A technical malfunction meant baggage piled up at Heathrow Airport in June 2022

Nicole Hogg, Sita’s head of baggage said: “Post-pandemic we’ve seen staff shortages at the same time as a surge in passenger traffic.

“People are really anxious about travelling with baggage, we’ve seen that with the baggage mountains. I think what we want to do is put confidence back into passengers to travel with bags.”

Sita has shared its provisional 2023 data with the BBC although it cannot work out the rate until it has passenger data for the whole of this year.

The International Air Transport Association (Iata) said there were 4.5 billion air passengers in 2019 and estimates this year will see 4.4 billion.

In the first half of 2023, the number of mishandled pieces of luggage was 5.7 million, down from 5.8 million in the first half of 2019.

“The trend started to sharply improve from May to the end of July 2023, with fewer bags being misplaced despite strong growth in passenger numbers going into the summer,” Sita said.

Nicole HoggIMAGE SOURCE,SEBASTIEN LEBAN
Image caption,

Nicole Hogg said there was a less than 1% chance that you would lose your bag and never be reunited with it

Ms Hogg said airlines were using automation to prevent baggage mishandling and reunite people with lost luggage.

“The system is quite clever. There’s an algorithm that basically works out what’s the next best available flight, and that bag is then sent directly on that flight without any human intervention.”

She said it was very rare that a bag that went missing was not found and sent back to its owner.

“I think a bag that is lost or never reunited with the passenger is because the tag had come off and there was no name or phone number on it. But it’s less than a 1% chance – bags that are mishandled are always more than likely reunited with passengers,” she said.

A statement from EasyJet said “incidents of lost luggage are extremely low” and that it “has one of the best performances in the industry”.

For now Chloe can only wait in hope that she is either reunited with her bag or able to claim enough to replace it.

Cost of living: Tackling it together

What should I do if my luggage is delayed, lost or damaged?

  • Report it at the airport and keep a copy of the Property Irregularity Report
  • Contact the airline in writing within seven days for a lost bag and 21 days for a delayed bag
  • Provide receipts as proof of purchase for all your missing items
  • For more information on your rights see the Aviation Passenger Charter

Source: UK Civil Aviation Authority

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