Used correctly, social media can be a very powerful tool for the airline industry – but it can also be a tool of chastisement
The SITA Baggage Report 2015 claims that the air transport industry has “cut the number of mishandled bags by 50% globally since 2007” to reach an all-time low in 2015 – and that in the face of ever-increasing passenger numbers. So, with more travellers and their luggage being moved from A to B every day than ever before, the efficiency and accuracy of the baggage handling operations that support those movements does appear to be improving. SITA attributes the positive steps largely to “strong technology investment and innovation in baggage systems automation and processes”.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has defined a whole set of mandatory resolutions and recommended practices pertaining to the handling of baggage, published as part of its Passenger Services Resolutions Manual. However, it cannot be denied that bags and cases are still on occasion mislaid, delayed or otherwise mishandled, and passengers (an airline’s customers, after all) expect their service provider to solve those problems should they arise.
L&F Website and Identifier
One solution comes from WISAG Aviation Service, whose Lost & Found Website was launched in January 2016. Once a passenger has entered certain information on the site (the date, flight number and bag tag number together with specific attributes of the luggage item and their contact information), that information is forwarded online directly to World Tracer, the IATA programme for the centralised logging of luggage lost around the world. The passenger is then immediately provided via email and text message with a reference number that they can use to track their luggage item until they get it back. Passengers with no Internet access can still avoid queuing at the counter too, as there are dedicated Internet terminals throughout the airport, the company explains.
In addition, WISAG has developed a solution – ‘Identifier’ – to speed up search requests carried out by its staff. “Storm Niklas in spring, during which baggage loading and unloading had to be temporarily suspended, made us look at how we could optimise the necessary search registration processes and make them simpler, more flexible and less time-consuming for the passenger. That was an exceptional situation of force majeure. But something like that can happen again at any time and we want to be prepared for this.”
Storm Niklas affected 50 flights with around 140 baggage items each, causing a sudden surge in luggage volumes with the manual processing of search requests being time-consuming for all concerned.
“The storm was the sort of ‘big bang’ of the whole idea of our WISAG L&F Website and Identifier. A lot of manpower was required in that instance so we have worked to find a way around that problem so that we can handle it if it happens again,” outlines Wolfram Greb, project manager Lost-and-Found at WISAG.
The company’s Identifier solution went live in July 2016 and allows staff to find and return suitcases reported as missing much more quickly than before. As in the case of the website, the relevant bag tag data is transmitted automatically from the Identifier scan system to the World Tracer system. If a corresponding enquiry exists, the system notifies the user of the match and the piece of luggage is automatically assigned to the respective delivery service. An additional advantage is that employees do not need specific World Tracer training – so at times when demand for the service is high, any member of staff is able to help find missing luggage. The system is also linked to the flight database exists, enabling rush luggage to be booked onto a suitable flight back to its owner automatically rather than manually.
“Right now, every GHA depends on lost and found counters and employees,” he continues. “The availability of these resources determines the number of request that can be made at any one time. Our L&F Website saves a lot of time and allows parallel requests to be generated via smart phone and so on.”
Asked whether customers are responding positively to the new solutions, in an age where personal service is increasingly giving way to automated systems, Greb is optimistic. “It’s always the same with something new; for instance, when self-check-in was introduced passengers were not keen to use it but now most people use it.”
He admits that in the case of a lost item of baggage, the human factor can be important under some circumstances. “A lot of passengers are already ‘not amused’ when their case is missing so their first intention is to talk to someone and get their frustration out. When presented with an iPad, some might miss having someone to talk to – but others are happy because they don’t have to wait in line, so it depends on the situation.
“Personally, if there is no queue for a service, I prefer to speak to a person, but if there is a queue and I’m in a rush then I’ll use technology. It just depends.”
In the long run, Greb agrees that every sector everywhere is going in the direction of increased automation and self-service. That said, he is confident that it won’t be any time soon that all services are done by machine. For example, there may be language issues, or a customer may not have email or may not be comfortable using technology, so “you will still need support”.
Initially launched at Berlin-Tegel airport, WISAG’s search registration technology has also been rolled out at Hamburg and Berlin-Schönefeld.
Greb concludes: “There has been a lot of interest [from third parties] but we have no price point as yet – that’s something for the future.”