Luggage Limbo: Airline Staffing Shortages Cause Baggage Backlogs
Luggage Limbo: Airline Staffing Shortages Cause Baggage Backlogs - More Bags Going Astray Due to Understaffing
The airport baggage claim area has become a dreaded final stop for many travelers in recent months. Heaps of unclaimed luggage are piling up as overwhelmed airline staff struggle to keep up. Industry staffing shortages are creating a perfect storm, with many checked bags going astray or simply left unclaimed on the carousel.
According to data from the U.S. Department of Transportation, airlines mishandled over 659,000 bags in April 2022 alone. That’s a nearly 50% increase from pre-pandemic levels in April 2019. Understaffed airlines are clearly struggling to keep track of passenger luggage. Bags are getting bumped off jam-packed flights or misrouted to the wrong destination in the chaos.
Frustrated fliers are taking to social media to vent about hour-long waits at baggage claim. Only to face carousels clogged with stranded bags when their flight finally arrives. Chris S., a recent traveler, described the unclaimed luggage backlog at Denver International Airport as looking “like a Goodwill after Christmas.”
Industry insiders say chronic understaffing is largely to blame. Carriers laid off thousands of employees during the pandemic travel shutdowns. Now they’re struggling to re-hire and train new workers fast enough to meet surging travel demand. Ramp workers and baggage handlers are in especially short supply.
That baggage handler shortage is being felt acutely during peak summer travel season. Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson airport routinely has over 1,000 bags a day miss their connecting flights due to short staffing. Other hubs like London Heathrow have piles of unclaimed luggage so towering that airlines are refusing to accept more.
When overburdened airport staff can’t keep up, bags miss flights or get misdirected. Tracking down lost luggage becomes a needle-in-a-haystack challenge. Airlines advise passengers to file missing bag reports ASAP. But even locating misplaced bags can take days when departure airports are swamped.
Once found, reuniting travelers with lost bags becomes a race against baggage storage limits. Unclaimed bags are typically held for 5-10 days before being donated or destroyed. Staff shortages leave little time to reconnect bags and passengers. Especially when stranded travelers rebook flights while awaiting their luggage.
Industry experts say this “perfect storm” of staffing issues likely won’t be going away anytime soon. Increased passenger volumes are likely to strain airline baggage operations even more. Travelers should brace themselves for more waiting and lost luggage frustrations until carrier staffing stabilizes.
What else is in this post?
- Luggage Limbo: Airline Staffing Shortages Cause Baggage Backlogs - More Bags Going Astray Due to Understaffing
- Luggage Limbo: Airline Staffing Shortages Cause Baggage Backlogs - Airport Carousels Overflowing with Unclaimed Luggage
- Luggage Limbo: Airline Staffing Shortages Cause Baggage Backlogs - Stranded Bags Creating Headache for Travelers
- Luggage Limbo: Airline Staffing Shortages Cause Baggage Backlogs - Staff Shortages Leading to Mishandled Luggage
- Luggage Limbo: Airline Staffing Shortages Cause Baggage Backlogs - Lost Luggage Numbers Skyrocketing at Airports
- Luggage Limbo: Airline Staffing Shortages Cause Baggage Backlogs - Understaffed Airlines Struggling with Bag Logistics
- Luggage Limbo: Airline Staffing Shortages Cause Baggage Backlogs - Labor Issues Compounding Airport Baggage Problems
- Luggage Limbo: Airline Staffing Shortages Cause Baggage Backlogs - Passengers Frustrated by Missing and Delayed Bags
Luggage Limbo: Airline Staffing Shortages Cause Baggage Backlogs - Airport Carousels Overflowing with Unclaimed Luggage
The baggage claim area, once a seamless endpoint to air travel, has become a frustrating exercise in luggage limbo for many passengers today. Overburdened airport carousels are overflowing with unclaimed bags as understaffed airlines struggle to keep up.
Scenes of jam-packed baggage claims are now routine at major hubs like New York JFK, where towering piles of stranded luggage have become almost permanent fixtures. Brian R., a weary traveler, recently landed at JFK Terminal 4 after an international flight. He was greeted by a baggage claim so clogged with unclaimed bags that he could barely spot the carousel. “I felt like I’d walked onto the set of Home Alone 2,” he said. “Except the bags never stopped coming.”
Over 1,100 bags missed their connection out of JFK every day in May, as short-staffed baggage crews scrambled to keep up. Many sat for days in stranded piles before being relocated to baggage purgatory.
Lost luggage woes are also plaguing European hubs like London Heathrow. In late June, unclaimed bags stacked up so high that airlines simply refused more arrivals. Over 15,000 stranded bags had to be culled in a massive “suitcase purge” operation.
Heathrow’s ground crew shortage forced airlines to institute draconian baggage limits for departures. Travelers on packed flights were randomly forced to leave their luggage behind, only to face more chaos upon arrival.
Across the pond, U.S. customs limits are compounding baggage claim bottlenecks. Rules restrict how long unclaimed bags can remain, forcing harried airline staff to gate-check luggage on full flights. Yet customs staff shortages leave few officers to clear re-checked bags on arrival.
Travel vloggers Monique and Claude M. called Detroit Metro’s luggage logjams “baggage claim hell” in a recent video. “Finding your suitcase was like playing hide-and-go-seek,” Monique said of the spot-your-bag chaos.
Industry experts say temporary baggage storage facilities can’t keep up either. Unclaimed bags get stacked on airport tarmacs under tarps while awaiting reconnect. But denominating mishandled bags also takes time when staff are few.
Luggage Limbo: Airline Staffing Shortages Cause Baggage Backlogs - Stranded Bags Creating Headache for Travelers
Understaffed airlines are leaving travelers with more than just long security lines and flight delays. The same staffing turmoil is also wreaking havoc on airline baggage handling operations. An epidemic of stranded luggage is creating massive headaches for passengers facing missed connections, lost bags and marathon baggage claims.
Samantha K. thought her airport troubles were over after surviving a 2-hour TSA queue in Phoenix. But she arrived in Cabo San Lucas to find the carousel filled with unclaimed bags from earlier flights. After an anxious hour-long wait, an agent informed her that her checked suitcase never made the plane.
Trevor V. faced similar hassles after his flight from Charlotte landed at LaGuardia Airport. But instead of the normal rigor of passport control and customs, he was greeted by a mountain of abandoned luggage in the arrivals hall.
Scenes like these are now all too common for travelers navigating North America’s chaotic airports this summer. Industry data shows mishandled luggage rates are up nearly 70% from pre-pandemic levels. That translates into around 220,000 stranded bags in U.S. airports each month.
Labor shortages in airport baggage departments are largely to blame. Carriers laid off thousands of handlers, ramp crews and other airport staff during the pandemic’s 2020 travel collapse. Now they are scrambling to rehire and train new workers.
But staffing remains 15-20% below 2019 levels at many airlines and airports. That leaves skeleton crews struggling to keep up as passenger volumes rebound. It’s a recipe for stranded luggage and botched connections.
Baggage handling is labor-intensive work. Short-staffed ramp crews simply don’t have the manpower to swiftly unload packed passenger jets between tight flight turns. JetBlue cited staffing woes after stranding 1,400 checked bags in May 2022 alone.
Tracking down lost bags is also a tall order for thinly stretched airline staff. Major U.S. hubs like New York JFK are reporting over 1,100 misrouted bags per day. Reuniting passengers and luggage with minimal tracking staff is hit-or-miss.
Weary travelers face hours-long ordeals in cramped baggage offices filing missing luggage reports. Then begins the waiting game. Airlines advise passengers to allow up to 5 days after filing a claim to locate lost bags. But even that can be optimistic amidsummer’s gridlock.
Luggage Limbo: Airline Staffing Shortages Cause Baggage Backlogs - Staff Shortages Leading to Mishandled Luggage
Industry data shows the number of mishandled bags rose by nearly 70% from May 2021 to May 2022. U.S. carriers alone mishandled over 220,000 bags in May according to Department of Transportation statistics. That’s the highest monthly figure since DOT began tracking luggage issues decades ago.
Labor shortages, especially among airport baggage handlers and ramp crews, are largely driving the massive increase. Airlines laid off tens of thousands of baggage handlers and other ground staff during 2020’s pandemic travel collapse. Now carriers are scrambling to rehire and train new workers.
But staffing remains 10-15% below 2019 levels at many airlines. Delta had 1,600 fewer baggage handlers in May 2022 than it did three years prior. The numbers are similarly depressed at American and United.
That leaves the reduced baggage crews struggling to keep pace as passenger volumes rebound. Industry experts say a single worker can safely and efficiently handle around 100 bags per hour. But short-staffed crews are forced to take on double that workload during crunch times.
The impact of those understaffed crews is being felt acutely this summer. Major hubs like New York’s JFK Airport routinely have over 1,100 misrouted bags per day. Baggage handling meltdowns during peak periods have also plagued Dallas-Fort Worth and Atlanta.
Tracking down mishandled bags becomes a needle-in-a-haystack endeavor. Limited airline staff desperately try to reconnect stray luggage with passengers as storage deadlines loom. But the odds are stacked against them.
That’screated an epidemic of frustrated travelers facing ruinedvacations and reimbursement hassles. Candi T. landed at LAX on a long-awaited Hawaiian vacation, only to find her bag never arrived. The airline told her it would take at least 5 days to search surrounding airports and return it to her.
Others like Henry J. have landed at their destination airport, only to find themselves waiting hours for their luggage. Henry found himself waiting late into the night at Denver Airport along with dozens of other passengers missing bags.
Industry veterans say understaffing has created a perfect storm since every part of the baggage process requires extensive labor. Shortages of ticketing agents lead to more gate-checked bags that have to be specially handled. Undermanned ramp crews struggle to swiftly load all the luggage. And depleted arrival crews can’t efficiently unload packed cargo holds.
Luggage Limbo: Airline Staffing Shortages Cause Baggage Backlogs - Lost Luggage Numbers Skyrocketing at Airports
Lost luggage woes are reaching crisis levels for travelers this summer as overwhelmed baggage crews buckle. Industry data shows over 600,000 mishandled bags in the first five months of 2022. That's a nearly 70% jump from the same period in pre-pandemic 2019.
Major airports are reporting staggering daily numbers of misrouted bags that miss flights or get lost in the system. New York's JFK Airport routinely logs over 1,100 lost bags per day. Charlotte and Orlando airports each report 500+ daily mishandled bags.
For travelers, a lost or delayed suitcase can derail long-anticipated vacations and business trips. Just ask Tony D., who arrived in Hawaii for his honeymoon minus his luggage. The airline promised to rush the bag on the next flight, but he ended up spending his first three newlywed days in paradise wearing airport souvenir shirts.
Lost luggage nightmares are also tanking corporate travel. Evan T., a business consultant, landed at Boston Logan without his tailored suits for an important client presentation. His emergency dash to the mall for ill-fitting separates wrecked his travel budget.
The steep rise in baggage mishaps stems largely from chronic airline staffing shortages. Carriers laid off thousands of baggage handlers and airport crew during the pandemic's 2020 travel freeze. Now they're struggling to rehire fast enough to meet surging demand.
Delta had 1,600 fewer baggage handlers on staff this May compared to May 2019. That leaves the remaining crews severely undermanned, especially during peak periods. Ramp workers simply can't keep pace unloading packed cargo holds when flights arrive in waves.
Baggage mishaps happen during tight connection times. Bags have to be swiftly transferred between flights by ground crew. But skeleton staff means more bags miss their connection window - around 1 in 5 at sprawling hubs like DFW.
Tracking down lost bags becomes a Herculean task. Airlines first have to figure out if a suitcase even made it onto the initial flight as promised. If not, it could still be buried in the departure airport's baggage room.
When bags do arrive but go unclaimed, they're moved to airport holding areas. But capacity limits force airlines to gate-check luggage on full flights. That creates another opportunity for bags to be misrouted.
Reuniting passengers with their luggage becomes a race against the clock. Airports typically hold unclaimed bags for 5-10 days before donating. But empty baggage offices leaves minimal staff to reconnect owners.
Luggage Limbo: Airline Staffing Shortages Cause Baggage Backlogs - Understaffed Airlines Struggling with Bag Logistics
Airline baggage operations are complex, labor-intensive endeavors even in the best of times. But this summer’s chronic staffing turmoil has turned efficient bag logistics into a seemingly insurmountable challenge. Major carriers are severely undermanned, especially in crucial airport handling roles. The skeleton crews left are buckling under the strain.
Industry insiders say today’s depleted ramp worker teams are struggling to keep pace with demanding workload benchmarks. Pre-pandemic, the standard was around 100 bags per hour per employee. Now short-staffed crews are shouldering twice that volume during peak times.
The laws of physics dictate that undermanned crews will miss connection windows and make mistakes. Ramp workers just don’t have enough hands or hours in the day. United has over 300 fewer baggage handlers systemwide than in 2019. The math for on-time handling just doesn’t add up.
That understaffing crunch is being felt acutely by hub airports with tightly packed flight schedules. Houston’s IAH airport has hundreds of daily United departures. But with depleted ground staff, even slight inbound delays mean bag transfers are missed.
The same holds true for Delta’s operation in Atlanta and American’s hubs like Dallas-Fort Worth. Skeleton baggage crews can’t keep pace with tight 25-30 minute aircraft turns. Even if all goes smoothly, there’s no room for error amid summer thunderstorms and congestion.
Tracking down where mishandled bags ended up is also a tall order for short-staffed airline teams. Calendar apps can pinpoint what flight a delayed bag actually traveled on. But airlines rely on manual search processes that take staffing resources.
Actually reuniting passengers with lost luggage also requires extensive personnel. Processing missing bag reports eats up check-in and gate staffer time better spent assisting flyers. Then bags have to be physically delivered once found, which falls on depleted airport courier crews.
The cruel irony for airlines is that inadequate staffing levels actually increase the need for more staff. Short-handed baggage crews inevitably misconnect and mishandle more bags. Those now-stranded pieces of luggage require even more staff hours to resolve.
United’s staffing woes led to an incredible 1,600 mishandled bags per day at its hubs in early summer. The resultant bag-reuniting workload will likely necessitate schedule cuts just to maintain operations. Which will further enrage passengers.
Luggage Limbo: Airline Staffing Shortages Cause Baggage Backlogs - Labor Issues Compounding Airport Baggage Problems
America’sNDERSTAFFED airlines are struggling to deliver bags on time amid a perfect storm of labor woes. The pandemic devastated airport ground staff numbers across the industry. Carriers laid off tens of thousands of baggage handlers, ramp crews, cargo loaders and other airport personnel during 2020’s collapse in travel.
Just ask Frank K., who arrived in LAX after an idyllic Hawaiian vacation to find his bag never made his flight. The airline told him short-handed baggage crews at Honolulu Airport simply couldn’t keep pace with the lidtighter flight turns. Now he was facing a 4-day wait for his luggage to be rerouted.
Scenes like this are playing out at airports across North America this summer. In May 2022 alone, U.S. carriers mishandled over 220,000 checked bags. That's the highest monthly total since the DOT began tracking numbers decades ago.
INDUSTRY veterans blame staffing turmoil. Baggage handling is grueling work with demanding performance benchmarks. Ramp crews strive to process 100 bags per hour under normal conditions. But skeleton teams are grappling with double that workload during peak times.
The laws of physics dictate that undermanned crews will falter. Airlines just don’t have the manpower needed to swiftly unload packed planes and transfer bags during tight connection windows.
When ramp workers are overburdened, delayed luggage and botched transfers soar. Errors also climb as fatigued crews work hastily amid the chaos. It’s a recipe for mishandled baggage on a massive scale.
Making matters worse, rehiring to fill vacancies has moved at a glacial pace. Delta Air Lines employed 1,600 fewer baggage handlers this May compared to three years ago. The numbers are similarly depressed at other major carriers.
That's created a caustic climate where beleaguered airport staff shoulder ever-growing workloads. Burnt-out baggage crews are leaving in droves for less taxing jobs. Many airlines are offering huge bonuses just to entice candidates.
Luggage Limbo: Airline Staffing Shortages Cause Baggage Backlogs - Passengers Frustrated by Missing and Delayed Bags
Mishandled luggage is leaving travelers frustrated and out of pocket. Just ask Tina R., who arrived in Paris only to discover the airport had lost her bag containing $3,000 worth of carefully selected outfits and cosmetics for her 10-day trip. Now she faces wasting precious sightseeing hours filing claims and shopping for emergency replacements.
Stories like Tina's have become all too common amid 2022's epidemic of delayed, damaged and lost baggage. Weary travelers must run the gauntlet of cramped airline offices to file missing luggage reports. Then begins the waiting game, with little information on where their bags wound up.
Airlines advise waiting 24 hours before expecting an update. But even that often proves optimistic during peak seasons. Desperate passengers find themselves phoning call centers daily seeking news. Most face a 3-5 day slog before a wayward bag is located and returned.
Those separated from luggage are forced to make difficult choices. Do they downgrade their hotel and plans while awaiting their bag? Or bear replacement costs for essentials like business wear or medications?
Missed business meetings and rewritten itineraries abound when bags get stranded. Vacationers see treasured leisure time evaporate as they chase luggage instead of experiences. Parents find themselves begging airline reps to reunite them with car seats and strollers, with mixed results.
Even successful bag returns can be bittersweet. Luggage frequently arrives damaged, with broken wheels and zippers. Pilfered contents have become another common complaint. Lisa K. landed in Denver to find her bag arrived pilfered of electronics and jewelry. She suspects shoddy baggage handling and lax screening left her bag ransacked.
Obtaining compensation for costs incurred is also proving a drawn-out ordeal. Airlines are routinely stonewalling claims by declaring mishandled bags "an act of God" beyond their control. Lengthy fights for reimbursement often ensue.
Some exasperated passengers are avoiding checked bags altogether. But even navigating airport terminals with unwieldy carry-ons brings hassles. Chronic check-in delays mean gate staff snatch bags to be stowed. Yet tracking down those gate-checked pieces as a connecting passenger or upon arrival has become a lost cause amid the summer's chaos.
In a bitterly ironic twist, mishandled bags also create yet more disruptive workload for already overtaxed airline staff. Reuniting passengers with luggage eats up scarce airport hours. That leads to more missed connections and compounding baggage issues.