Mishandle with care - IATA’s InBag programme explained16 July 2015
The aviation industry has continued to greatly improve its performance in baggage handling, but it is not about to rest on its laurels. The latest step in IATA’s InBag programme is Resolution 753, which could help airlines track baggage at every point in its journey and, therefore, greatly improve efficiency. IATA’s Andrew Price explains.
As passenger numbers continue to climb, it might seem logical to assume that the added pressure on baggage handling processes and infrastructure would result in poorer performance in terms of mishandling. So intense have efforts from the industry been, however, that the rate of mishandling has steadily improved year after year.
According to the SITA 'Baggage Report 2014', the total number of bags mishandled decreased 17.2% in 2013 to 21.8 million. This dramatic reduction is particularly impressive given that total passenger numbers increased by 5.1% to 3.13 billion during that year. This means that the rate of bag mishandling actually fell by 21.2% to 6.96 per thousand passengers - significantly less than 1.0% of the total number of bags.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has played an important role in helping the industry to achieve such positive results, firstly through the Baggage Improvement Programme (BIP) - an initiative that saw IATA work with over 55 airlines at 200 airports - which came to a close at the end of 2012, and now through the InBag programme.
BIP was part of a concerted effort by airlines, airports and ground handlers that achieved sustained improvement in baggage handling over the past five years but, according to SITA's report, the annual cost to the industry of mishandled bags is still more than $2 billion.
InBag, which is driven by IATA's Baggage Working Group and Baggage Steering Group, aims to further reduce mishandling, improve efficiency and enable innovation. The organisation's latest proposition is Resolution 753, which states that IATA members shall maintain an accurate inventory of baggage by monitoring its acquisition and delivery.
"This resolution must be supported by all our airline members, so it is not a case of IATA telling the industry what to do, it is the industry telling itself what to do," says Andrew Price, who leads IATA's baggage services group. "The fundamental idea is to demonstrate the delivery of baggage and the handover between different parties that handle each bag. In that way, the airline can see what is happening at every stage in the process."
New year's resolution
The term 'mishandling' covers many things. SITA's latest breakdown of mishandling incidents shows that lost or stolen bags account for a little over 3% of all incidents, damaged bags just over 15% and delayed bags over 80%.
IATA's Resolution 753 aims to address all these causes of mishandling by putting in place a system that will provide greater transparency for everyone involved in the handling process.
The detail of the resolution, which is scheduled to come into effect in June 2018, stipulates that an accurate inventory of baggage must be maintained by the monitoring of baggage at acquisition and delivery stages in order to determine custody of every bag during different phases of the baggage chain.
The consequent reduction in mishandling would have a positive impact on passenger satisfaction and and also reduce the incidence of baggage fraud.
Furthermore, it would enable exceptions to be detected where baggage is delivered to a party but not processed further, and could speed up reconciliation and flight readiness for departing flights. By maintaining an accurate inventory, airlines would be able to demonstrate delivery and acquisition of baggage when custody changes.
"There are three key stages in the handling of baggage - it is put onto the aircraft, taken to arrivals or taken to a transfer area - so you know from this what is in the airport," Price explains. "You record the arrival of bags from outside the airport and the arrival of passengers, and you record bags being put onto the aircraft, so you know what comes into the airport and what is leaving. This resolution means you must send a manifest of the baggage to the destination airport so that it can be checked when it arrives there.
"It brings the industry to a common point. At the moment, some airports have very good tracking capability, but others have none. There is an example of an airline that introduced 100% baggage tracking and saw a 35% reduction in mishandling, which is a huge improvement. It became very elegant in its tracking procedures without any big increase in manpower," he adds.
A key target is baggage fraud, which represents a small proportion of mishandling claims but is nevertheless costly to airlines.
One method of fraud that the proposal would help to combat in particular is the instance of two people buying a cheap hop across the border, one of whom checks in a bag that is left in the airport and taken home by an accomplice.
The traveller then makes a baggage claim and possibly gets maximum compensation under the Montreal Convention, the result being $1,500 compensation for a $60 outlay on the ticket.
"This kind of fraud can be addressed by arrivals tracking. We can see if a bag is still on the airport and check on the belt or, if necessary, look at the CCTV footage, which may reveal someone taking that bag from the airport before it was put on the plane," Price says.
"It also has important implications on the prorate agreement between airlines, which is used when someone makes a claim for a mishandled bag. The cost is shared by mileage between the airlines that handled it, and that calculation requires a lot of work.
"It is possible to do 100% prorate if you can prove whose fault it was, and we could now do that automatically, so we may see an automated system that could eliminate the backlog of prorate claims," he adds.
A standardised inventory: one step on a long journey
Maintaining a standardised baggage inventory could also help improve efficiency in other ways. For instance, if a bag is scanned at arrivals and registers as a transit bag, it could be put straight into transfer rather than going to the public side of the airport in baggage reclaim. It also enables airlines to check whether a bag is intended for a particular flight and, if not, move it.
There are cost implications of implementing such a system, either in terms of manpower or scanning technology, but the benefits outweigh the initial investment.
"People are looking at costs, but they are also looking at the clear benefits and efficiency that it brings. When the resolution comes into effect, it is unlikely that every single airport will have the facilities to scan bags, and there is no force behind the IATA resolution, but the big hub airports are doing it already. For some smaller regional airports, it may take longer," Price warns.
The introduction of a consistent ten-digit licence plate to remove the risk of mismatch between the physical tag and the baggage data has already been a success.
With an accurate inventory process in place, we could soon see more applications like Delta's baggage tracker, which allows passengers to see where checked baggage is at any time, or the introduction of permanent bagtags.
"A unique reference would make it very hard to fake a baggage tag, but that is just one part of a big long-term project," says Price.
"This latest resolution is just one step in a long journey for IATA's baggage steering group - ten airlines and three airports - which looks at all parts of the baggage handling process."