What is the problem with baggage handlers?

These days, it seems that the vast majority of us have travelled overseas, either for work, pleasure, or both, so we are all used to the sight and experiences of baggage handlers, right?

As I travel a lot for work, I have this ‘joy’ (experiencing baggage handlers at work) more often than most, so it seemes like an obvious topic for my latest blog entry.

I live in the UK, but currently work in Germany through the week, so I take aorund 100 flights a year for business and, unfortunately, considerably fewer than this number for pleasure.

I often wonder just how difficult it can be in this technological age to actually deliver an efficient baggage handling system…..here are a few of my thoughts..

I marvel at the ease in which the baggage is ‘handled’ at check in. As soon as my passport has been checked for the flight, and the boarding pass issued, a luggage tag is put on my bag and the automatic conveyor belt whisks it away to the black hole that is the baggage handling area, hopefully to arrive safely at my destination airport…hopefully!

I worked for a number of years in Dubai, and as you can imagine with such an incredibly busy airport, the amount of luggage they handle is colossal. During this time, I only experienced baggage difficulties twice, and this was on the flight to and from Dubai, both with British Airways.

I had decided to take my golf clubs out to Dubai (with very unimpressive results- more of that in another blog!) and the check in of my clubs, as is most often the case when checking in any luggage in my experience, was very smooth and efficient.

When I  was waiting at the baggage carousel in Dubai, my suitcase came off relatively quickly, and I had visions of being away from the airport and back in my apartment in no time at all. Sadly, this was not the case.

If you have experienced the feeling of waiting for luggage to appear on the carousel, only to watch expectantly as case after case passes you and is collected by other passengers, then the belt is empty, and slowly comes to a halt, you will know that feeling. ‘That feeling’ is when you know that your worst fears have just been realised, your luggage is not going to appear, and you frantically begin to rack your brain to try and remember what urgently required item is in your luggage.

I stood there, forlornly thinking about the game of golf I had planned for the next day, my day off, and hoping that the belt might start up again and my prized clubs would appear through the rubber screen and I could continue my journey.

Alas, it was not to be, and when I turned round to see where the place to tell somebody about my loss might be, I noticed a small sign on a flimsy stand, pointing away from the luggage belt.

As I walked round the stand to read what was on the sign, I realised that it was my name printed on the sign, and it was telling me to go to a Dnata office. (Dnata seems to be the company responsible for luggage handling, amongst other things)

When I went to the office, I was told that my golf clubs had not been loaded on to the aircraft, and they would follow on a later flight the next day. I asked why they had not told me this earlier, as I had spent almost an hour since getting off the flight waiting for my golf clubs, which were still in the UK. They pointed to the sign, and said ‘ Sir, your name is on the sign’. When I explained that as I approached the luggage belt the sign was not visible, and only after the empty belt had stopped running and people dispersed did I see it, and even then the writing displaying my name was on the side facing away from the belt, they simply shrugged their shoulders and asked me to fill a form out and tell them when I was home for them to deliver my clubs.

The clubs arrived two days later, a day after my golf game, which I had to cancel, and I thought that was the end of it…..silly me.

A couple of months later, I was going home on leave, and I was travelling on the return leg of my British Airways flight ticket.

I made my way to the baggage carousel at Manchester Airport, and again was pleased when my suitcase appeared. I slowly started to feel a sense of deja vu when the remaining passengers all collected their luggage and made their way out, leaving me again to watch the belt continue round and round for an agonising ten minutes or so before grinding to a depressingly familiar stop, minus my golf clubs of course.

As I looked round the emptying hall, a guy from the baggage handling company looked at me and made his way over. He called my name, and when I confirmed that it was me, he asked me to go to the office with him.

By now I was sure the dreaded British Airways and my golf clubs connection had struck again, but I was not expecting his statement, that my golf clubs had not been loaded on to the aircraft, and would follow on a later flight. Talk about Groundhog day!

When I asked him the same question I had asked in Dubai, which was ‘why didn’t you tell me earlier, as I have been standing there watching everybody else collect their luggage for 25 minutes’ he said “we were expecting you to come to see us when you realised your bags were not there”. Amazing!

So, although I thought that the handlers in Dubai had a strange system, by writing your name on a sign which is facing away from where you are waiting, the guys at Manchester Airport went one better..they simply waited for you to come to them!

My clubs arrived three days later, and by then I had sworn never to take golf clubs on another British Airways flight. Surely it cannot be coincidental that the same airline lost my clubs but delivered my suitcase, on two separate flights?

Which brings me back to my point. As I mentioned, I am a frequent flyer, and as a result, I have the dubious joy of watching bagge handlers at work on a regular basis.

As I sit in my seat each week, waiting for my flight to depart, I watch the baggage ‘handlers’ with a feeling of anger and astonishment. They would be more appropriately called baggage abusers than baggage handlers, as they appear to indulge in a contest to see who can throw the luggage the furthest, or drop it from the highest height onto the conveyor taking the luggage on board the aircraft.

I regularly see suitcases fall off the belt from height and if you ever look closely at your suitcase after it has been on a few flights, you might not be surprised to read this, when looking at the collection of impact marks.

The trolley which holds the luggage as it is transported from the terminal building to the waiting aircraft is usually around the same height as the loading conveyor which the baggage handler has to place the suitcase on. I emphasise the word ‘place’ as I cannot see any reason why the handlers should think it is acceptable to throw the luggage around as they do. Not only is the luggage itself these days invariably an expensive item to purchase, but of course the contents of the luggage can be prone to damage, especially when subjected to drops from a height.

As I have seen this method of throwing the luggage around and items dropping off loading belts in a number of different airports in several countries, it is obviously not exclusive to any particular company or airport, but seems to be the accepted ‘norm’ by these ‘handlers’.

I suppose the only message I could give is to not spend large amounts of money on fancy items of luggage, (and there is an increasing amount of nice snazzy designs out there) as they will be subject to very rough handling, and in a very short space of time will look like exactly what they are, the victims of manhandling and abuse.

Whilst we cannot it seems, do anything to prevent this mishandling of our personal belongings, we should I suppose, at least be aware of what is happening.


Incidentally, I looked at a website to see how Dubai Airport manages to handle such vast amounts of luggage, and I found a short video showing what goes on behind the scenes, produced by Dnata.  Hopefully the link below works, but just take a look at how carefully the handlers deal with the luggage, (knowing they were to appear in a promotional video of course) and compare this the next time you gaze out of your aircraft window and see the reality of your luggage being tossed around!




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