There are a number of causes. Bags fall off conveyor belts or dollies; bag tags are damaged or missing so they can’t be scanned; baggage systems suffer mechanical breakdowns; and check-in or loading staff make errors. Probably the largest factor contributing to mishandled or delayed bags is short transfer times. Sometimes this is the result of delayed inbound flights. Airlines must often make the call to let an aircraft depart with its connecting passengers but without their bags, so as not to cause further expensive delays. All airports have published minimum connection times, but airlines will often focus on connection times which are commercially attractive rather than airport-appropriate, leading to a large number of ‘rush bags’.
Reuniting mishandled bags with their owners is a task that airlines often sub-contract to their ground handlers. Swissport Hellas handles over 80 airlines in Greece, including full-service airlines such as Qatar Airways, Air Canada and Delta and low-cost and charter carriers including Easyjet and Thomas Cook. In the summer season, this can amount to around 500 turnarounds every day at 22 airports throughout Greece. We spoke to General Manager Yannis Zermas to find out how Swissport Hellas handles delayed bags.
“Depending on the season of the year and taking into consideration the high seasonality of tourism in Greece,” says Zermas, “Our staff in the Lost and Found Department handle between 1000 bags per month in winter and 5000 per month in summer.”
Reuniting bags with their owners has some unique challenges in Greece. Zermas says, “My country might be small, but it has over 200 inhabited islands. This makes the tourist season, April till October, particularly challenging. Hundreds of thousands of tourists are scattered around most of those islands or have discovered equally beautiful places in the mainland.
“Do you remember an old 1987 movie called Planes, Trains and Automobiles? Well if you change ‘trains’ for ‘ferries’ this is exactly how we work during the summer months. Each Swissport branch is a unique station, under the coordination and direction of our Athens and Heraklion hubs, which enables us to plan the fastest and most cost effective way to deliver a delayed bag to its owner. Quite often airlines authorise the necessary expenses to arrange delivery up to the doorstep of the passenger’s accommodation.
“I would say that almost every day during the peak summer months, our people face unique situations. Considering that over 1.5 million people fly in to Greece to join a cruise around the most visited Greek islands, a regular challenge – whilst also tracing their bag, somewhere around the globe – is to stay in regular contact with passengers to ensure their bag, once forwarded to a Greek airport, will be waiting for its owner at the cruise ship’s next port of call. Santorini, Mykonos, Rhodes and both ports in Crete have been the usual sites of reunion.
“To add a little bit of suspense, imagine a delayed bag which contains specially prescribed medical supplies, not available in Greece. The owner was a young lady from Australia, travelling alone, first time away from her parents… After a happy ending to this story, both parents, who were understandably very worried, are now considered my best friends! Due to the nine-hour time difference, we had quite a few out-of-hours telephone conversations with Rob, the father, in the time it took to get the young traveller’s bag to its correct destination.
“Recently, we had a passenger who was staying in Hydra island, with no airport within 150 km. We dispatched the bag to Hydra port, but the customer was staying on the more isolated side of the island. Access was possible only by sea – no cars are allowed in Hydra. We found a local agent in Hydra to offload the bag from the ferry and then forward it by a chartered ‘sea taxi’ to the
“As there are only 38 airports around Greece, mostly located in the biggest islands, there are several very difficult destinations when it comes to forwarding a bag. According to Mrs Nancy Tzoni, our Head of Baggage Services, one of the most difficult islands is Samothraki in the north of Greece. To get there, a bag needs to combine all three major means of transport – plane to
Alexandroupoli, car to the nearby port and then ferry (only three times weekly) to Samothraki!”
Technological solutions exist to help reunite passengers and their bags. One of these is MissingX, a software product developed by Eurosafe Systems AS in Norway. The system allows lost property offices to register found items in a database and travellers to view and to search the database for their belongings. Android and IOS apps are being prepared for launch at the time of writing. We spoke to John Tvedt, Sales Manager, to find out more.
MissingX is currently in use at London Heathrow and Stansted, Oslo, Stockholm, Gothenburg and Bromma airports, with plans for expansion. “We are in contact with Airports all over Europe, USA, South Africa and also Australia,” says Tvedt. “New airport customers will come this autumn, but it is a very slow process for airports and handlers. Often it takes months and years until the decision is made.” MissingX is not just for airports: “The software is also very suitable for train and metro stations. We are in contact with this industry in many countries.”
The system has many advantages: entries are logged to prevent fraud; the database is searchable; and registration, return and transfer operations are much faster than in a manual system. Lost property offices can communicate with travellers by email directly from the system – which is, as Tvedt says, “Easier and more time-saving than phone calls.”
MissingX has built-in report functions so that the professional users can see data on return rates, average storage time before return, and categorise found objects. “The system is lively and dynamic, and is constantly improving based on customers feedback,” says Tvedt. “It is stable – no crashes.”
Travellers who are looking for lost items like the system because, according to Tvedt, “MissingX makes it possible for them to do something active themselves. This leads to less frustration.”
Other technological solutions include HomingPin, which enables travellers to buy coded tags to affix to their luggage as well as smaller items such as mobile phones and passports. These tags carry unique identification codes which the owner must activate. The finder of the lost object inputs the code into the HomingPin database, which sends a text message to the owner to allow him or her to claim the found item. The HomingPin database is linked to the WorldTracer baggage system used by many airports around the world.
Many airlines are considering the introduction of passenger self bag-drop, with home-printed or reusable electronic bag tags. Is this likely to have an impact on the number of bags that go missing?
John Tvedt of MissingX says, “Not necessarily. If passengers are given exact instructions of where to place the barcode tag, and exactly where to go to bring their items to the bag drop, it’s done. However, people are smart, but a crowd is stupid, so the industry and the airports must make no room for misunderstanding.”
Yannis Zermas of Swissport Hellas says, “As the quality of paper for bag tags is the same as the one used at the traditional check-in desks and assuming a ground staff member will be present at the self bag-drop desks, to ensure the bag tag was correctly placed by the passenger, I do not anticipate any impact on the volumes of missing bags.”