Airline baggage handling: examining the role of Chief Baggage Officer

Person with baggage or luggage. A man carries heavy luggage.

Current baggage handling: a quick sketch of challenges and opportunities

On average, a passenger checks in 1.33 bags per year on air travel.

Checked bags should be good news for airlines. It enables them to:

  • Have faster turnrounds, as passengers get off board quicker.
  • Generate revenue through checked baggage
  • Increase crew satisfaction as they don’t have to deal with carry-on bags that don’t fit the hold

And airlines are interested in growing the baggage business. According to SITA’s 2023 Airport Transport IT Insights, 73% of airlines have investment priorities for IT services, such as digital tags, baggage tracking, and asset management.

But passengers aren’t following suit. 

Checked baggage causes a lot of stress. 22% of passengers experience negative emotions at the conveyor belt.

(The only point in their travel journey that causes more stress is security).

Unclaimed baggage concept - suitcase going around on the conveyor belt at an international airport, at the baggage claim zone - motion blurred image
Faulty airline baggage handling causes issues for all stakeholders: passengers, airlines, airports, and ground handlers.

Are passengers right in being so anxious? The data is on their side.

Numbers show that 19.3% of bags get lost or mishandled on international flights, which is almost 1 in 5 passengers experiencing the stress and frustration of PIRs, calling Lost & Found offices, and being in the unknown about the status of their belongings.

And mishandled baggage causes the necessary headaches for airlines, too.

In 2022 alone, the industry footed a bill of $2.2 billion for mishandled baggage between flight connections and the over 4 million bags mishandled during transfer.

(That is not to talk about the reputational damage to the brand.)

As solving the baggage problem would benefit all stakeholders, why is there so little innovation in the space?

Your bag at the airport: why systems are failing

One of the current issues is the scattered nature of the current airline landscape, which makes it difficult to guarantee innovation in this space.

With various teams having to work together at airlines (as well as with external stakeholders, such as airports and ground handlers), the baggage problem is not moving forward.

Additionally, the current baggage handling system is not ready to deal with passengers’ or airlines’ expectations for a smooth, transparent baggage journey.

The problems are numerous (as also highlighted by Timos in our latest webinar)

  • Barcode scanning
  • RFID failure
  • Staff shortages
  • Infrastructure issues
  • Lack of baggage handling knowledge

Meanwhile, passenger are turning to their own solutions. Bluetooth baggage tracking tags are gaining rapid popularity as passengers hope to relieve some baggage-related anxiety. 

However, the impossibility of data sharing between passengers and airlines is eventually causing more friction than solution, resulting in reputational and financial damage for airlines.

Lost and Found sign at the Airport
Can airline baggage handling be solved if airlines appoint a dedicated Chief Baggage Officer to deal with lost baggage?

So, as with many aviation issues, the baggage question is a complex problem with no straightforward answer.

But … could an airline person who is 100% dedicated to solving the baggage problem, operating on the crossroads of ancillaries, passenger experience, and operational efficiency, a solution?

Introducing the Chief Baggage Officer to improve airline baggage handling

The strategic importance of having a dedicated executive focused on optimizing baggage operations.

Airlines rely on the collaborative nature of various departments working under skilled leadership to drive success. 

Just think of divisions such as Sales, Product Innovation, Operations, or Customer Experience.

Each department has its own department head or leader, who plays a crucial role in ensuring long-term growth and optimized operations.

But one department seems to miss a visionary Chief to spearhead advancement that can set the airline apart: the Baggage department.

While professionals working in the airline’s baggage division are committed to guaranteeing smooth day-to-day operations, a Chief Baggage Officer, driving the mission forward, is often missing.

What responsibilities would a Chief Baggage Officer have?

From crisis management to technology adoption: a Chief Baggage Officer would fully focus on making the most out of the baggage experience for every passenger. 

This department head could be responsible for overseeing all aspects of baggage operations, with key responsibilities such as:

  • Strategic leadership: The CBO would be the main driver to implement new opportunities, such as AI in aviation, Bluetooth baggage tracking, or automated bag recognition.
  • Secure communication: By streamlining the communication between all stakeholders, the CBO can contribute to optimized baggage-handling solutions. The CBO could also be the leader in maintaining contact with third-party stakeholders that work on baggage innovation. 
  • Operational excellence: The CBO would be the person who puts baggage at the heart of what the airline does and finds a balance between efficiency versus costs, innovation versus tradition, and the development of internal solutions versus the integration of external ones.
  • Stakeholder collaboration: Getting all partners across all platforms aligned is crucial for successful baggage handling. The CBO would lead baggage-related meetings within the company, as well as with tech providers.
  • Long-term vision: As a dedicated officer, the CBO can be responsible for driving profit from baggage as ancillary revenue, while also positively impacting the passenger experience.

Not only would it mean a boost in passenger happiness, but it would also relieve other departments from baggage-related tasks while maximizing baggage revenue growth and operations.

Conclusion: the Chief Baggage Officer as a new role in baggage handling innovation?

With this article, we wanted to open the conversation about new ways to improve operations, such as a dedicated baggage leader at every airline, who would bring together all stakeholders.

Strategy, long-term thinking, and analytical insights are crucial to “crack the code” and solve the airline baggage handling problem. A Chief Baggage Officer might just be the perfect person to solve the predicament.

In the meantime, we keep working hard on our Bluetooth baggage tracking solution TravelTag, hoping to contribute to pushing baggage efficiencies and passenger experience.

Get more information about Bluetooth baggage tracking solutions

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