With Fewer Bags Checked, Fewer Bags Lost

By | December 2, 2010
American Airlines Boeing 777
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Though 1.5 million bags have been lost by American Airlines through September of this year, that’s 900,000 fewer than in the same period of 2008, according to a recent article by Scott McCartney at the Wall Street Journal. While this sounds impressive, it is impossible to assess how much improvement there has been without knowing the total number of checked bags during each period.  As McCartney notes, “A large part of the change, airlines admit, simply comes from passengers checking fewer bags to avoid fees and from airlines trimming their flight schedules to save money.”

McCartney says that airline executives attribute half of the improvement to new tracking systems. What is very clear though is that the metric used by airlines, number of checked bags per 1000 passengers, seems designed to obfuscate.  Even if we were to assume a rough, and undoubtedly high estimate of 1 checked bag per passenger, the current reduced rate of 3.67 bags lost per 1000 passengers would mean that 1 out of every 272 bags is lost by an airline. This is an unacceptably high number for any service, egregiously so for one which requires a specific surcharge. I am certain that UPS and Fedex do not lose 1 out of every 272 packages.

Airlines must do a better job of getting every piece of luggage to its proper destination. The technology available for this purpose leaves no excuse for today’s pitiful performance.