The Ryanair plane had just arrived at Manchester from Malaga when one of the passengers noticed an unusual attitude to handling the baggage – including her luggage – being unloaded from the Boeing 737. So she started filming on her mobile phone.
At the ground end of the conveyor, a baggage handler was throwing passengers’ bags onto the cart, showing precious little tender, loving care. To make things worse, the tarpaulin on the far side of the baggage cart was adrift, so some of the bags fell off and dropped onto the apron. His colleague stood idly by and watched the performance.
Their employer was Swissport, the ground handler contracted by Ryanair. “We are disappointed by the video footage circulating on social media,” Swissport said in a statement.
“Employees are well trained in baggage handling and we will use this incident to remind all staff of our duty of care with passengers’ belongings.”
Manchester airport’s boss, Andrew Cowan, was more than “disappointed”. The chief executive said: “It is completely unacceptable for our customers’ belongings to be treated in this way by any company operating on our site.
“The actions of the individuals concerned are so serious that we would expect Swissport to ensure they do not work on the airport site in the future.
“We have also asked Swissport to carry out an urgent review of their recruitment and training processes to ensure their employees are clear about the high levels of customer service that are required.”
If such behaviour goes on in public view, travellers will be forgiven for wondering what happens behind the scenes.
Most baggage handlers do an excellent job, working under intense pressure: Ryanair expects planes to be unloaded and reloaded in 25 minutes in all weathers. But the incident provides yet another reason to avoid checking in any baggage if you can possibly avoid it.
Beside the increasing financial incentive – with more airlines charging for checked baggage – packing everything into your cabin baggage has plenty of other advantages. No queueing to drop the bags off or pick them up again. And no danger that a fellow passenger will accidentally (or sometimes deliberately) pick up your case from the reclaim carousel.
The basic rule if you must check a bag: consider “What would happen if I never see it again?” and plan your packing accordingly. The overwhelming odds are that your luggage will arrive. But it is a sad fact that some does not.
To reduce the risk, go for direct flights rather than those involving connections in big hubs such as Heathrow, Paris CDG or Dubai. And ask yourself a second hypothetical question: “If all the baggage tags are torn off, how will they know this is mine?” A label stuck to the inside of the case will help.
Professional packers will take a couple of extra steps, including photographing the bag and its contents – to help retrieve the luggage if it is misrouted, and to pursue a claim with the airline and/or insurer if, after three weeks, it is deemed lost forever.
Sometimes, even if you think you are taking hand luggage, your airline may have other ideas. If your cabin baggage is taken off you at the departure gate, as happens with increasing frequency, the chances of misrouting are low: the case should be placed directly onboard the plane, as opposed to taking its chances in a complicated baggage system.
But prepare for the possibility by having a separate small bag for valuables; I have heard many stories of people losing stuff worth hundreds or even thousands of pounds between the case being tagged and it reappearing at the far end.
The Civil Aviation Authority tries to provide passengers with some grounds for optimism with its online advice, headed “Resolving Travel Problems”.
But whether you end up trying to claim for loss or damage from the airline or your travel insurer, all the evidence shows that passengers rarely feel their problem has been completely solved. If you can’t carry it on, you may be better off without it.
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