Two Bags Per Passenger

To put their performance in manufacturing and distribution terms, in September the airlines had a 0.8% failure rate or a 99.2% perfect delivery rate. That might not sound too bad until you add up the numbers.

No doubt I'm about to jinx myself. I travel a fair amount, a little more than once a month if you average it out, which usually takes me through quite a few airports. On all of those trips over the years not once have the airlines lost my luggage.

It's never even been delayed. One time I did have to look around a bit, but I eventually found my suitcase in a row with some others at the wrong end of the baggage claim area.

Granted, when I must check bags I try to check them at the gate, which reduces the distance my luggage has to travel on its own. The shorter the travel distance, as every material handling manager knows, the less opportunity for something to go wrong along the way. In this aspect the airlines have at least one very satisfied customer.

A lot of people aren't so lucky. The U.S. Dept. of Transportation (DoT) reports that in September of this year almost 383,000 passengers filed formal claims with U.S. air carriers concerning lost, damaged, delayed or stolen baggage (the data isn't broken out). With almost 46,400,000 total passengers, that's one claim for every 121 passengers.

As reported by the DoT's Aviation Consumer Protection Division, the September mishandled baggage rate was 35% higher than the average monthly rate in 2005, and 68% higher than the average monthly rate in 2004. A huge jump to be sure, but the increase makes sense if you consider the increase in the volume of checked luggage caused by the restrictions on liquids in carry-on bags, on top of a 7.1% year over year increase in the number of air passengers. (See Tom Andel's article, "Excess Baggage," to find out how two airports are handling the increased volume and security requirements.)

To put their performance in manufacturing and distribution terms, in September the airlines had a 0.8% failure rate or a 99.2% perfect delivery rate. That might not sound too bad until you add up the numbers. Through the first nine months of the year, there have been over 2,944,000 claims for mishandled baggage. That's almost 3 million unhappy flyers.

Of course the thousands of people who are inconvenienced daily by lost or damaged luggage could care less about security and capacity issues. They just want their stuff to arrive with them, on time and intact. Your customers are no different. They don't care about your equipment capability or other resource issues. They expect shipments and material to arrive on time, undamaged and in the specified quantity.

Like most every material handling activity, baggage handling is under-appreciated when things go according to design, but when something goes wrong, you can bet that somebody is going to get an ear full. Studies have shown that when customers have a bad experience they spread the word far and wide, telling many more people than when they have a good experience. It's human nature. This negative customer word of mouth can have a big impact on sales. Whether your customers are external or inside the organization, at the very least it's your job to give them nothing to talk about.

We'll see what happens to my luggage on my next flight. If it arrives on time and undamaged, maybe I'll say a word of thanks to all of the unheralded baggage handlers behind the scenes who got it there. If it doesn't, that'll teach me not to call attention to a good thing.

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