Damaged baggage costs the airline industry millions of dollars every year as bags and cases have to be replaced, fast – not to mention the potential damage to a carrier’s reputation. One consultancy in Japan is working to find a solution to the problem
The 2016 Baggage Report published by SITA notes that instances of mishandled baggage globally decreased in 2015 as compared with the previous year. Of the total mishandled items, 15% came under the category of “damaged or pilfered bags”. (Of the remainder, 79% were delayed while 6% were lost or stolen.)
According to Kent Asano and Setsuji Yamashita of Yanagiya Aviation Consulting in Japan: “Despite the great efforts of airlines not to damage the checked luggage of their customers, they continue to damage luggage far too often. This causes them to incur high costs in rectification of the situation – and, perhaps even worse, it upsets many of their good customers.”
Airlines are under a great deal of pressure from customers, particularly premium frequent flyers, to repair damaged items perfectly – using genuine parts and top quality repair services – as well as getting the job done quickly. However, many luggage manufacturers do not make this easy.
“The vast majority of luggage manufacturers want to sell new suitcases and not repair damaged suitcases,” Asano and Yamashita point out. “Most of them … do not provide repair/replacement parts to the market and offer a very poor repair service, usually taking several months to get the luggage back to its owner. Many of them tell their customers they have to pay one-way transportation costs for the luggage (for example, sending it to Hong Kong) just to replace a caster wheel. This is total nonsense.”
Airlines are being forced to purchase new luggage for irate customers, incurring huge costs. One major Japanese airline says that at Narita Airport alone, its annual costs arising from damage to (and subsequent replacement of) customers’ luggage is over US$3 million – not to mention the cost to the airline in terms of loss of trust and reputation.
“Further, we also were informed by major insurance companies selling travel insurance at Narita Airport that they also had no alternative except to buy a new suitcase for their clients, even though only a cheap caster wheel or handle needed to be replaced. This means that they have to cover these costs by raising their insurance premiums.”
The quality of service that manufacturers and their authorised repair facilities offer can sometimes be so disappointing as to require the item to be re-repaired. One US airline at Narita does not accept liability for any suitcase of a particular make because the manufacturer in question does not make parts available and its own repair service is “very poor”. Therefore, the airline’s customers have to sign a waiver that they cannot claim against the airline for damage to their luggage.
In addition: “Many manufacturers tell airlines that cracked or dented (hard shell) luggage is not repairable and therefore they have to buy a new one. But our two major Japanese airlines had doubts about the truth of this; therefore they sent the damaged luggage to the repair facility we know of and the luggage was repaired quickly and at a fraction of the cost that the airline would have had to pay for a new one.”
In one case, the cost of a new hard shell case was 80,000 yen ($764) while the repair facility in question charged just 8,000 yen ($76) to fix it – and completed the job within two weeks. As a result of this experience, both these airlines have now switched their policy from replacement to repair, Asano and Yamashita note.
Looking for solutions
Yanagiya Aviation Consulting is part of an initiative seeking to rectify the problem, helping airlines to reduce their costs while improving customer satisfaction. The project has started in Japan but aims to help the wider airline industry.
Three years ago, Asano and Yamashita set about looking for a luggage repair company that could partner with airlines. “We found one (located near Narita airport) and enticed two of the top quality luggage manufacturers to visit and approve them – they both expressed their total amazement at the high level of repair quality.” It was obvious then that this service could be extremely valuable to airlines – but only if the luggage repair company could obtain the right parts to carry out the necessary repairs.
The Narita Airport Authority (NAA) and resident airlines formed a joint venture with a German luggage manufacturer and the Japanese luggage repair company already mentioned. A service counter operated by the Airport Authority in partnership with the luggage repair company was set up inside one of the airport’s terminals, while the German manufacturer provided replacement parts. Resident airlines were then able to take the luggage they had damaged to the service counter for repair (which was done within 15 minutes except in the case of serious damage such as cracks or dents), and the customer got his luggage back immediately.
“At Narita airport alone, for this one luggage manufacturer there were an average of 120 repair events per month, so you can get an idea of the dimension of the problem,” Asano and Yamashita state. Unfortunately the service was later terminated due to a difference in opinion between the manufacturer and the NAA. During its eight months of operation, however, airlines received a great deal of praise from their customers for handling the repair so quickly and efficiently, so the termination of the service “was a terrible blow to them. They asked us to again find a way to restore and hopefully expand such kind of service, but truthfully we are still struggling to accomplish this.”
Noting that the 2020 Olympics will be held in Tokyo, bringing a huge number of visitors to Japan, Asano and Yamashita feel it is “essential that a system for quick repair of damaged luggage be set up. Airlines have already expressed their deep concerns to us.
“We really want to bring this situation to the attention of IATA [the International Air Transport Association] and hope that they might put pressure on the luggage manufacturers to provide their parts to the repair market so that airlines can rid themselves of the heavy costs of purchasing replacement luggage”.
“We are now in the process of contacting various Asian airlines to introduce them to the opportunity they have to save money,” the two spokesmen continue. “The results thus far are mixed. Some of them are interested only in the case that the customer is a frequent flyer (gold member etc) and has expensive luggage; others had no idea that repair is possible – they were automatically purchasing new luggage for their customers – as there are no companies that can do high-quality repair in their country. In the past months, three Asian carriers have started sending the expensive luggage they damaged to Japan for repair instead of automatically replacing it. We hope this will become more widespread as airlines discover they do have an option and do not have to be a captive of the luggage manufacturers.”
Yanagiya Aviation Consulting is currently in discussion with a company in the US that specialises in supplying repair/replacement parts to US luggage repair companies, whose major customers are US airlines. Due to the “tremendous” difficulties in obtaining genuine parts, this company has had to look for suppliers that can produce parts which can be used to repair suitcases.
Whether a passenger with expensive luggage of a particular brand will accept non-genuine parts is another matter, however.
In conclusion: “We did find one luggage manufacturer (Briggs & Riley – USA) that we can praise. They offer a lifetime guarantee and supply simple replacement parts free of charge to their customers, but for serious damage they do not have a repair facility in Asia.”