There’s two kinds of luggage, carry on and lost. That’s especially true at American Airlines, but they’re doing something about it.
I do my best to avoid checking a bag. I even try to avoid needing overhead bin space. On an overnight trip I’ll just use my laptop bag which allows me to board last. For longer international trips there’s usually no way for me to avoid it.
More people check bags on Southwest Airlines than any other carrier, even though they don’t operate long haul international flights across the Atlantic or Pacific. Checked bags are bundled in their ticket price and don’t cause extra.
Yet airlines who specifically charge for checked bags, like JetBlue, Alaska, United and American are more likely to lose your luggage than Southwest, according to Bureau of Transportation Statistics data released last month. American Airlines was the only U.S. carrier to mishandle more than 1% of checked bags in June – and more than 450,000 year-to-date.
American’s largest hub is Dallas – Fort Worth. When it opened 48 years ago it was build to house hubs for American, Braniff, and Delta, largely self-contained in different terminals. The older terminals are convenient for local traffic – check in at the terminal you’re departing from, pick up your bag at your gate.
However American now operates out of all five existing terminals (the airport is building a sixth, terminal F) utilizing 140 gates. The airport’s grounds are larger than the island of Manhattan. This presents challenges:
- Moving people for connections, mostly done by airport train
- Moving spare parts for maintenance, which can be consolidated by trying to keep fleet times contained to a specific terminal
- Moving checked bags from one flight to another
American isn’t prepared to invest in RFID tracking or electronic bag tags – IT investment and capital investment – they’re doing a lot with process improvements and those are driving down their rate of mishandled bags.
Specifically, American has made progress trying to get connecting bags off of planes first to provide more time to connect bags. But there’s still the complex challenge of moving bags across terminals and to specific flights.
With separate terminals, and such a large operation, American hasn’t had a single centralized bag room. Each terminal has its own. The way connect bags worked until recently is described in a recent internal note to employees viewed by View From The Wing,
Until recently, Fleet Service team members from each mainline terminal would bring bags to every flight, which meant multiple trips from multiple terminals to multiple gates.
According to the airline’s director of baggage operations for the airport, fleet service crew chiefs came up with a plan to “virtually combine the separate mainline bag rooms into one.” They assign connecting bags by onward destination based on historic data on which terminal each flight is likely to use.
While bags with shorter connection times are delivered aircraft to aircraft, bags departing on later flights are now brought to a central location. “We’re assigning a home base for groups of cities,” explained Crew Chief Tim Bapp.
“This makes life a lot simpler because everyone knows where to go with each bag. We know that Miami bags go to the Terminal A bag room, Mexico City bags go to the Terminal C bag room and El Paso goes to D.”
The team looked at historic data to determine the likely location at DFW where each flight departs. Since flights to MIA tend to leave out of Terminal A, connecting bags for MIA departures (leaving in two hours or more) are now sent to the Terminal A bag room.
They also co-locate nearby airports in the same bag room so that luggage can be re-routed as passengers change destination (usually during irregular operations). Washington National, Dulles, and Baltimore use the same bag room. The airline’s development path includes programming this information into the airline’s gating tool “SIMBA.”
By handling specific destinations individual employees move more bags to each destination, focusing on 8 to 10 flights per shift instead of up to 20 flights. Since launch in April DFW mishandled bags have fallen 17% against pre-pandemic levels.