Missing luggage: Travellers’ worst nightmare

It’s every traveller’s worst nightmare. But what can be done to reduce the pain of lost luggage, asks WOLE SHADARE?


Imagine being the last person at the airport conveyor belt and coming to that slow realisation that your bag isn’t coming.
Lost luggage can prove either highly irritating or, bizarrely, kind of convenient. If the airline loses your bag on the outbound flight, you’re left with only the clothes you travelled in, and might end up splashing most of your spending money on last-minute T-shirts and toiletries to carry you through.

NCAA to the rescue

In Nigeria, it is usually tale of woes as passengers get to their destinations without their luggage. The thought of it put so much pressure on tired travellers. This has engaged the attention of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) with the creation of Directorate of Consumer Protection (DCP) to tackle issues such as lost/delay luggage and other problems that deal with consumer protection.

Statistics released by the NCAA and made available to New Telegraph shows that on international flights for 2017, 22, 584 baggage were delayed or missing.

On the domestic scene, 91 baggages were declared delayed or missing. Out of these, 83 3454 found and the others were never found.

Lagos is home to missing baggage

The Murtala Mohammed Airport is the biggest and busiest in Nigeria, with an average of 106 flights passing through on a daily basis.

In 2016, the airport processed over seven million passengers and, according to employees of the Nigerian Airport Handling Company PLC (NAHCO), who pleaded anonymity, an average of 20–30 cases of missing or delayed baggage were reported every day.

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When passengers hand over their baggage to airline staff and officials, it is in the understanding that these bags and boxes will be conveyed, so that when they land at their destination and undergo the necessary procedure, their luggage will be waiting for them, intact.

Considering the fact that airlines and airports have enlisted the help of technology and years of practice to develop their systems and create clear procedures for handling and transporting luggage, there seems little reason for this to be such a frequent occurrence.

Baggage leaves the passenger’s custody at the airline’s check-in stand. When the passenger hands it over to the airline staff, it is weighed, tagged with a bag tag and placed on a conveyor belt that takes it into a bag room where it is further searched as necessary.
From right Region Director Member and External Relation Africa and Middle East, International Air Transport Association, Ms. Adefunke Adeyemi; Director General Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Capt Muhtar Usman; Manning Director, Minister Representative Nigerian Air Space Management Authority, Capt Fola Akinkotu; Secretary General, African Civil Aviation Commission, Ms. Iyabo Sosina and Director Air Transport Regulation NCAA, Group Captain Edem Oyo-Ita, during the NCAA Aviation Stakeholders Workshop on Implementation of SAATM: Its Impact on the Nigerian Aviation Industry and National Economy  in Lagos..yesterday. Photo Sunday Eshiet.

Role of airports

At this point, it becomes the responsibility of the airport handling company. In more advanced airports, scanners on the conveyor belt scan the bag tag and direct the luggage to the pier or carousel for the appropriate airline. Here, the luggage is placed in baggage carts.

This does not always happen. According to NAHCO staff, most of the technology in Murtala Mohammed Airport are decades behind the times. They have conveyor belts with non-existent scanners and faulty baggage carousels, so there are instances where the ground handling staff has to move the luggage from the bag room, directly to the baggage carts.

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Most local airlines don’t even bother with this process. In local flights, the luggage is usually placed on a baggage cart at the airline’s ticket stand and taken directly to the plane by airline staff.

About 30–40 minutes before the flight takes off, the bags are brought out to the aircraft. There, a team of ground handlers loads the bags on board the plane according to a load plan.

The load plan tells how many bags go in each cargo compartment to keep the weight and balance right and ensure fuel efficiency.

When the plane reaches its destination, another team offloads it into baggage carts, which are moved to a baggage carousel. The baggage is then offloaded onto the carousel that brings it into the terminal where you pick it up.

According to a senior official of FAAN who spoke to our correspondent on the condition of anonymity, the human factor is responsible for a lot of the baggage that goes missing but, as the case is not unique to MMA, there are many reasons beyond that.

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Sometimes, the bag tag gets torn off in transit and there is no information to indicate where it is headed or when it should land.

Airline staff in a bid to make extra cash from un-remited baggage fees, often attaches hand-written bag tags that make it difficult to connect the bags to the appropriate flight.

When asked why the cases of missing bags spiked during the festive season, he replied that the period is a busy time for airports around the world when staff and systems have to be on top of their game, unfortunately, due to high traffic and inadequacy of some baggage management systems, some bags are forgotten, overlooked or simply left behind because they cannot be cleared in time to leave with the appropriate flight.
But a $50 million (£34.2 million) innovation introduced by Delta Airlines last year means that you will be able to track your bags through an app on your phone.

The Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology will replace the existing barcode and hand scanning procedure that’s been used industry-wide since the early 90s and is the first time that the technology has been used this way in the USA.

Last Line

If an airline has ever lost your luggage then you will understand how frustrating it is. Such a sensation is felt by hundreds of people departing airports across the world.

Wole Shadare