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Staff layoffs blamed for air cargo mishandling

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By MICHAEL WAKABI

Airlines and airports are seeing a rise in mishandled luggage even as borders reopen and air transport continues on a recovery trajectory from the two-year disruption caused by Covid-19. The increase is being attributed to first, workforce cutbacks that have left airlines, handling agents and airports operating on lean headcounts, and second, the lack of digital alternatives at many of the world’s airports.

Some 9.9 million bags were either lost or misdirected during 2021 as passenger numbers rose to 2.28 billion according to the 2022 Baggage Insights report by air transport industry IT and communications systems provider SITA. That represented a 24 percent increase in cases of lost and mishandled luggage over 2021, or a loss of 4.35 bags for every 1000 passengers.

“Airlines, ground handlers and airports all downsized, making do with less in order to maintain viability during the pandemic. However, this led to a shortage of resources and expertise dedicated to baggage management and, if unaddressed, may see baggage mishandling rates much higher than in pre-pandemic times,” says SITA CEO, David Lavorel.

The baggage losses were still 77 percent lower than the 2007 record when 46.9 million bags were mishandled against a passenger volume of 2.46 billion. But there are fears that without intervention, the numbers could easily surpass the 25.4 million bags that were mishandled in 2019 when a whopping 4.54 billion people chose air travel.

SITA says the pressure to conserve cash while maintaining efficiency has driven a growing number of airlines and airports to adopt digital solutions, although Africa still lags behind in this.

Ninety percent of airlines and three-quarters of airports plan to introduce touchless, unassisted self-bag drops kiosks and passengers’ mobile devices by 2024.

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