Baggage Handling in Crisis: Air Transport Industry Battles Soaring Mishandling Rates

The air transport industry is facing a significant increase in baggage mishandling rates, with the rate nearly doubling from 2021 to 2022.
The Covid-19 pandemic and the resumption of international travel have put a strain on airports and airlines, leading to staffing shortages and operational challenges.
In 2022, delayed bags accounted for 80% of mishandled bags, while lost/stolen bags accounted for 7%, and damaged/pilfered bags accounted for 13%.
Digitalization and automation are seen as key solutions to address the rising mishandling rates, with investments being made in real-time baggage status information systems and innovative baggage management technologies.
The implementation of systems like SITA's WorldTracer Auto Reflight can potentially save the industry millions of dollars by automatically rebooking mishandled bags on the next available flight.
Training programs, increased workforce, and collaborative efforts are necessary to streamline operations and reduce mishandling rates, aiming to restore passenger confidence and improve the overall travel experience.


After more than a decade of declining baggage mishandling rates, the air transport industry is currently grappling with a drastic upswing in mishandled luggage.

According to the Baggage IT Insights report released by SITA, an IT provider for the air transport industry, the rate of mishandled bags nearly doubled from 2021 to 2022, reaching 7.6 mishandled bags per thousand passengers.

This distressing trend marks a significant shift from the steady decline seen between 2007 and 2021, when the rate of mishandled bags per thousand passengers fell by an impressive 59.7%.

The Challenges of a Post-Pandemic World

The aviation industry worldwide is still reeling from the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the spike in baggage mishandling is a testament to this.

With the resumption of international travel, airports and airlines are struggling to manage the sudden surge in passenger volume, which escalated to 3.42 billion last year.

This resurgence, coupled with the staffing shortages that ensued after pandemic-induced layoffs, has put a significant strain on operations, leading to the unfortunate rise in mishandled bags.

Breakdown of Mishandling Types

In the surge of mishandling in 2022, 80% were cases of delayed bags, a significant increase attributed to the resurgence of long-haul and international travel.

Lost and stolen bags accounted for 7% of all mishandled bags, while damaged and pilfered bags made up the remaining 13%.

In particular, transfer bags, which have historically been the main source of mishandling, saw an increase in delay rate of one percentage point from 2021, reaching 42%.

According to the Baggage IT Insights report released by SITA, an IT provider for the air transport industry, the rate of mishandled bags nearly doubled from 2021 to 2022, reaching 7.6 mishandled bags per thousand passengers.

Turning to Digitalisation

To counter this rising tide of mishandling, the air transport industry is looking to digitalisation and automation.

These technology investments aim to improve processes and restore passenger confidence in checking in their baggage.

A significant stride in this direction is the real-time baggage status information system. In 2022, 57% of airlines provided their staff with mobile access to this information.

By 2025, this figure is expected to rise to 84%, with 67% of airlines planning to offer this service to passengers, up from just 25% at present.

Innovations in Baggage Management

SITA’s WorldTracer Auto Reflight system is one such innovation aimed at improving the baggage handling process.

This automated system identifies bags that are unlikely to make their planned connecting flight and rebooks them on the next available flight using the existing bag tag.

This process is estimated to potentially save the industry up to $30 million per year. A partnership between Lufthansa and SITA, which uses this technology, has shown promising results, with the system able to automatically reflight up to 70% of Lufthansa’s mishandled bags at Munich Airport.

Looking Forward

As the air transport industry navigates these turbulent times, the need for better training programs, increased workforce, and innovative technologies is evident.

The industry must work collaboratively to streamline operations and reduce mishandling rates, with the ultimate aim of restoring passenger confidence and ensuring a seamless travel experience.

While the challenge is significant, the industry’s commitment to improving baggage handling processes offers hope for the future.

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