Jammed airports and planes this summer will inevitably mean more checked suitcases, duffels and backpacks that don’t show up at baggage claim.
Tight — some would even say unrealistic — flight schedules and continuing staffing shortages put pressure on luggage management systems, said Jamie Larounis, a travel industry analyst at Upgraded Points. Sometimes there just isn’t enough time to get luggage across a large airport and onto departing aircraft. “The slightest delay of a plane coming in can domino to the next because bags can’t get from one to the other,” Mr. Larounis said.
Airlines and airports are developing new technology to help those systems shepherd your bag through the conveyor belt maze quicker and more efficiently.
SITA, an air travel technology company whose WorldTracer system is in use at 2,200 airports globally, is teaming up on new initiatives. For example, it recently tested a system with Lufthansa to automatically reroute luggage that missed its flight onto the next available flight and let passengers know the new arrival time. That notification saves passengers from having to go speak to someone in the arrivals hall.
A system made by Siemens can read crumpled or partly obscured paper tags. It’s being used at several airports in the United States and internationally.
BAGTAG, a Dutch company that makes electronic luggage tags, is working with carriers like Alaska Airlines, KLM, Lufthansa and Swiss to phase out paper tags in favor of e-tags, which could help reduce mishandled luggage because they’re made of durable plastic and are less likely to be mangled or torn off.
Alaska Airlines is introducing electronic tags to a group of 2,500 fliers now and plans to make them available for sale this fall.
The good news is nearly everyone is eventually reunited with checked luggage. Last year, the vast majority made it back to their owners without a hitch. Out of the 470 million total bags checked on U.S. carriers in 2022, about six out of every 1,000 were mishandled (lost, damaged, delayed or stolen), according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics. And only a tiny fraction of luggage is never reunited with its owner, according to SITA — about one in 2,250 bags.
So what can you do to leave the baggage carousel with a smile on your face this summer?
Arrive early so your checked bag has plenty of time to make it to the plane. Fly nonstop when possible, because every transfer increases the chance of a mishap. If you do need to change planes, don’t book a tight connection. And make sure any previous bag tags and stickers are taken off.
Carefully choose the type of bag you check (if possible, avoid the ubiquitous little black rolling bag, which can easily get mixed up at baggage claim) and festoon it with ribbons, stickers or other flair to make it easy to identify. Pay close attention at the check-in counter: Make sure the tag the agent attaches to your bag has the correct airport code. Never check medication, jewelry, or other essentials or valuables.
Take advantage of your airline’s smartphone app, which may offer luggage tracking capabilities. You can also place an Apple AirTag and a card with your contact information inside the bag to help trace it in the event it gets lost.
But say the worst happens and your baggage does not arrive as expected: Make sure you fill out the claim form before you leave the airport. The Department of Transportation website lists the rules that airlines must follow when baggage is delayed or goes missing, capping compensation at $3,800 per bag. Each airline has its own specific policies and procedures. Check their websites.