April 18, 2023 | Mark Paradies

Bag Lost – Root Cause Analysis Opportunity?

bag sad face

NO – More like ZERO Quality Improvement.

I flew from Milan to Amsterdam yesterday.

It was a direct flight.

I got to the airport and checked in with 4 hours to spare. (My wife had an earlier flight to Spain.)

It was a major European airline. I had a business-class ticket. The plane was lightly loaded. We boarded on time. Everything was looking good.

Then, we had a 1-hour 30-minute gate hold due to weather because it was windy in Amsterdam (such is modern air travel).

We arrived 90 minutes late.

But things got worse…

When I arrived at the baggage claim in Amsterdam, my bag didn’t come out.

I waited for a while to make sure it wasn’t the last one that might pop out late … 20 minutes slipped by.

I always stand near where the bags come out to make sure that nobody mistakenly takes my bag. (I’ve stopped this from happening twice in my flying career.) I know my bag never came out.

lost luggage line

I went to get in line to report the problem. There were about 50 people ahead of me. Another hour slipped away.

I finally saw a person. They said … your bag can’t be lost – it was a direct flight. It must have gone to the transfer station or perhaps one of the places where bags fall off the line. Or maybe you didn’t wait long enough. They had someone check. I started filling out the paperwork while they searched … 30 more minutes slipped away.

They checked the computer. Nope, no note that any bag failed to make the plane. (Isn’t it part of modern airline security to make sure that your bag flies with you?) If there is no note on the computer, the desk agent said the bag MUST be in Amsterdam! They checked the usual suspects again … 15 more minutes slipped by.

Finally, they decided my bag was lost. They accepted the form I had completed and told me my bag would probably be on the next flight. They said they would bring it right over to my hotel when they get it and leave it at the front desk and tell them not to wake me if it comes in late tonight.

I thought, “It is already late.”

“When is the next flight?”, I asked. They replied, “I’ll have to check.” … “Sorry – not until tomorrow, 9 AM.” But the airline rep said they would update the bag status online (the internet!) as soon as they knew anything, and that the system would automatically text my cell phone.

I checked the baggage loop one more time on my way to customs. No bag.

The Next Day

The next morning I went to breakfast and checked with the front desk. No bag yet. And no text message.

After breakfast, I decided to check the bag status online. The bag status was “unknown.” But there was a reassuring note that if your bag status is still unknown after FOUR days, there is a special phone number to call. I begin to wonder … “If they have a special number for bags delayed for four days, how many bags are never found?” I remembered the “60 Minutes” story about the cavernous store in Alabama for lost bags.

Unclaimed Baggage Store

I decided it was a good time to call the regular airline lost baggage phone number and see what they had to say.

They checked their system. Good news! The bag is scheduled for the 4 PM flight. I wonder, what happened to the 9 AM flight? What if I really needed my clothes? What if I was departing on a cruise or on to another international location?

But progress had been made. I waited and hoped.

By 7 PM, the bellman finally brought my bag to my room. That’s almost exactly 24 hours after we were supposed to land.


After the bag arrived, I was going over this in my head and thought …

This is a root cause analysis opportunity!


First … Think of the wasted time.

  • Over two hours of my time was spent just reporting the lost bag.
  • Some unknown amount of airline employee time was spent dealing with me, looking where bags could get lost (it says something that they know places to look), filling out paperwork, updating computer records, dealing with my call, and getting the bag delivered.

Second … I went for a day without a bag.

This could have been a minor disaster. Even though it wasn’t a disaster, it did leave me an unhappy customer. How many other unhappy customers like me are they creating every day?

Because I’m an experienced frequent flyer (two million miles+), I travel prepared. This preparation is because I EXPECT them to lose my bag. This is a normal part of the frustration of flying. One more reason people drive when the trip is short. (I actually was thinking about a train trip from Milan to Amsterdam. I could have made it faster than my bag did.)

Third … Is this a security violation?

If making sure that the passenger’s bag travel with the passenger is a part of modern security, certainly, this is a security failure.

Fourth … These types of failures cost the airlines big bucks.

According to one news report, it costs the industry $2.9 billion each year.

$100 Dollar Billes Saved

Imagine how many future problems could be avoided if they started treating every lost bag as a customer service incident that needed to be investigated and reported to the CEO.

I know. You say that’s impossible. Well, how about a pilot program at one airport? If it worked, it could be expanded to other destinations. If a CEO took a personal interest, I bet in a matter of months, the number of needlessly “lost” bags (like mine) would be ZERO.

The few remaining lost bags due to really tight gate connections (Can people can run faster than bags can be delivered?) would be a very manageable number, and even those might be reduced.

What problem could they work on next? What about delayed flights? Alaska Airlines did this and showed major improvements! Then they could work on…

  • Baggage damage
  • Plane damage
  • Worker injuries
  • Weather-related delays
  • Air traffic delays
  • Security errors
  • Long lines at the baggage counter
  • Long lines at the ticket counter
  • Slow baggage delivery

All of these are fixable problems. They need advanced root cause analysis. (Not just stupid 5-Whys.)

I’d bet many of the problems above could be eliminated or at least dramatically improved in a cost-effective way. Some might require some dollars to fix – but at $2.9 billion just for lost luggage; there is room for improvement.

Wow! Imagine the progress that could be made.

This could be a competitive advantage for a particular airline.

Or the initiative might improve the whole air travel experience. Maybe I would stop dreading flying. My exercise program would not be running through airports.

Remember: root cause analysis is NOT just for when planes fall out of the sky.

If only the airlines were interested in customer service!


Because no one is investigating lost luggage, flight delays, weather delays, air traffic delays … All these problems are just part of the fatiguing process of modern aviation. Which continues to get worse (a little more inconvenient all the time).

It will be no better when I fly out on Friday than when I flew in on Sunday. ZERO quality improvement.

Please correct my thinking if I’m wrong about this …

Suitcase Story Part II

Interesting twist the next morning … The airline called me at the hotel and asked if I wanted my suitcase delivered or did I want to come over to pick it up.

I told them they had already delivered it the night before.

At that, the person from the airline seemed confused. They had already delivered it?

“Yes,” I told him, “The night before.”

He apologized and said that someone must have made a mistake.

I didn’t say it, but … Yes, they did! Several mistakes by now.

Maybe now it is time to start a root cause analysis?

Ahhhh … All’s well that ends well. Why bother?

(This article was written in early 2011. Twelve years have gone by. Is flying any better now than it was then? Are any airlines working on improving the passengers’ experience? I can’t see any proof of it.)

bag sad face
Root Cause Analysis
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