Traveling With Luggage Is Getting Harder

Maybe a more accurate title would be that the odds of arriving at the same destination as your luggage is getting worse. Airlines consider an accurate delivery rate of 90% to be the acceptable goal. So right there you know that 1 in 10 bags will not be arriving at the same destination at the same time as the person who checked it. One in every 138 checked bags was lost during the first nine months of this year, compared with one in 155 bags a year earlier. Those lost bags may not seem like a lot, but when you consider that the number of people owning those 138 bags is far fewer than 138, that’s a fair percentage of seriously inconvenienced people.

The problem of baggage routing is further compounded by the fact that more bags must now be checked due to NTSA regulations and restrictions. For example, what I have always carried in my carry-on overnighter no longer passes scrutiny, and I must now check it. It’s a major pain. But I’m tired of having my Tide stain remover pen, along with lots of other items, confiscated each time I fly. No wonder those NTSA employees have such clean white shirts!!

Add a number of other factors, and you can understand the increase in misrouted bags. For example, about 27 million passengers are expected to fly during the 12 days surrounding Thanksgiving, 4 percent more than last year, according to the Air Transport Association. But there are fewer airline employees to look after them, and their bags, according to an article in the New York Times. And to squeeze more flights out of the day, planes are sitting on the ground for shorter periods between flights. So predictably, more bags fail to join their owners, particularly on connecting flights.

One of the big problems is dirty print heads on the bar code printers, and the accuracy rate of the resulting readers as the bags route along the miles of conveyor belts hidden from passenger view at each airport. O’Hare, for example, has more than seven miles of conveyers behind the scenes. Bar code readers at strategic locations direct — or misdirect as the case may be — luggage automatically onto large piers which are then handled by hundreds of workers and scores of tractors pulling baggage carts to individual planes. About 2 percent are misread and dropped onto the wrong pier. Then, it is up to a worker stacking the bags on carts to notice the mistake. Fewer workers, more bags, less time . . . you do the math!

Bags failing to make connections account for 60 percent of mishandled bags. That’s because all too often the passenger has barely enough time to dash ahead to the next connection. Think about how much more time it takes the bags to be unloaded, sorted, reloaded for those remaining on the flight, and routed for those making connections.

There aren’t any easy answers. If you’re going to make connecting flights, try to book with more down-time in between flights, instead of less. That way if your first flight is late there may still be adequate time to ensure your baggage keeps pace with you.

Avoid last minute changes in flights whenever possible, especially to ones you need to run to catch. Under those circumstances you can count on watching the carousel circle endlessly in vain when you reach your destination.

If your plane will be making a connection, check your bags later instead of earlier, so they are among the first ones seen as the luggage gets sorted upon arrival at the first stop.

Keep all medications and one change of clothes in your carry-on, just in case. Most bags are recovered and delivered to passengers within one or two days after arrival at their destination.

And most importantly, be sure that any client-sensitive data and other essential work-related information is kept with you at all times, or shipped by a private carrier ahead of time. With the odds increasingly getting worse, you don’t ever want to risk having to inform the client that their confidentiality may have been compromised by airport baggage mishandling.

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