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Air travel is facing a new crisis of delays, cancellations, and lost or delayed baggage, prompting Emirates to term the situation an ‘airmageddon’. The reason: A severe staff shortage at airlines and airports. What should you know before packing bags? Mint explains

What issues are travellers facing?

Many travellers are taking international trips for the first time after being cooped up at home for more than two years. But their summer holiday experience is being marred by the fear, and increasingly the reality, of having their airline lose or delay their baggage. Thousands of flights are getting cancelled or changed as well. Major European and American airports, as well as in Australia and Canada, are full of unclaimed, untagged or misplaced suitcases even as travellers go weeks or months without finding their bags. Emirates recently said the situation is so bad it could be called an ‘airmageddon.’

How did we get to this situation?

An acute shortage of labour hit airlines and airport operators hard as the holiday rush brought with it a large number of tourists. Many on-ground staff, including baggage handlers, were laid off during the pandemic, and moved on to other jobs, making it difficult to find ground staff during peak holiday season. A lengthy labour strike made matters worse for the understaffed German carrier Lufthansa. Emirates blamed the management of London’s Heathrow airport for failing to make arrangements to tackle the holiday surge even after airlines gave airport authorities enough visibility to anticipate the surge.

Photo: Reuters
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Photo: Reuters

Is the global baggage crisis easing now?

Small improvements are already visible in some areas. Cancellations at London’s Heathrow and Gatwick airports, among the worst affected in the crisis, are on a steady decline. Lufthansa’s labour strike has concluded favourably for staffers. At Qantas, executives are taking more desperate steps, like urging management to volunteer to work as ground staff.

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What can you do if you lose your luggage?

Find airline or airport staff and file a complaint for delayed baggage quickly. Depending on the airport you are flying into, or have a connection from, your baggage could take a few days to a few weeks to reach you; so, ensure you check with the airline frequently and keep your delivery address updated. Airlines are advising passengers to travel light, not leave essentials in checked-in baggage, and avoid check-in bags if possible. Taking direct flights also limits the risk of your bag not making it to your destination with you.

How can you keep track of your bags?

Apple’s AirTags and Tile trackers have gained some popularity recently. They don’t have built-in GPS chips, but use Bluetooth connections with phones (only iOS for AirTags) to keep track of luggage. They also use a network of users to keep track of devices when the phone is not nearby. So, as long as enough Tile or iPhone users are around, they will be able to transmit a last-known location. This may not be the exact location, but it will be better than knowing whether your luggage never made it to the plane in the first place.

Elsewhere in Mint

Long Story reveals how expensive and rare orchids are smuggled out of India. In Opinion, Nitin Pai draws nation-building lessons from a Bollywood song. Bibek Debroy writes on India's Amrit Kaal modernity. ED has made India's crypto winter colder, argues Andy Mukherjee.

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