American Airlines Baggage Chief: "There's A Lot Of Opportunity For Failure"

The New York Times is taking a look at American Airlines’ recent effort to improve their checked baggage operation. Who would have thought that dirty printers were causing lost baggage?

Workers at American found that printers that produce adhesive tags for bags were often dirty. That made bar codes hard to read, leading to misdirected bags. Regular wiping of the printer heads helped, but even with a clean printer, the bar code readers are only about 90 to 92 percent accurate, said Denise P. Wilewski, manager of airport services for American here.

“We never hit 100 percent — 90 percent is acceptable,” she said.

The Times says that lost baggage is getting worse. Fewer airline employees are handling more bags, and planes are staying on the ground for less time—making it more likely that bags will be “mishandled.”

“There’s a lot of opportunity for failure,” said Hans Hauck, manager of baggage operations at American’s headquarters in Fort Worth. Since Mr. Hauck started his job in September 2006, American has not met its bag-handling goal in any month. As of late last week, though, Mr. Hauck remained optimistic that he would make his November number. A look at American’s bag-handling operation, which is the biggest of all United States carriers, shows it is making lots of little improvements but still losing ground.

Small regional airlines lose bags more frequently than the big guys they’re affiliated with, so it might be wise to avoid checking bags when you know your carrier might be Atlantic Southeast (Delta) or American Eagle (American.) Or, if you can, avoid checking your bag at all! Travel light. It’s better than it sounds.

Travelers’ Odds Decline on Airline Baggage [New York Times]
(Photo:Ben Popken)