February 7, 2011 | Mark Paradies

Bag Lost – Root Cause Analysis Opportunity? NO – More like ZERO Quality Improvement.

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I few from Milan to Amsterdam yesterday.

It was a direct flight.

I got to the airport and checked in with 4 hours to spare.

The plane was lightly loaded.

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 arrive 90 minutes late.

Now the bad part.

When I arrived in Amsterdam my bag didn’t come out.

I waited for a while to make sure it wasn’t the last one. 20 minutes slipped by.

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

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

I finally saw a person. They thought … it can’t be lost. 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. I’ll have some people check. I started filling out the paperwork while they searched. 30 more minutes slipped away from my life.

They also checked the computer. 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?) No note on the computer. It must be in Amsterdam – let’s check all the usual suspects again. 15 more minutes slip by.

Finally, they decide it is lost. They accept the form and tell me it will probably be on the next flight. They’ll 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 tonight late.

I think, “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 we will update the bag status on-line (the internet!) as soon as we know anything and that will automatically text your cell phone.”

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

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 on-line. Bag status was “unknown.” But there is 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, how many bags are never found?” I remember the 60 minutes story about the cavernous warehouse in Alabama for lost bags.

I decide it’s a good time to call the regular phone number and see what they say.

They check 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 cloths? What if I was departing on a cruise or on to another international location?

I wait and hope.

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

I was going over this in my head and thought …

This is a root cause analysis opportunity!


1. First … Think of the time wasted.

a. Over two hours of my time was spent just reporting the lost bag.

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

2. Second, I went 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?

Luckily, 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 if 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 flying.)

3. Third, is this a security violation? If making sure that the passengers bag travel with the passenger is a part of modern security, certainly this is a security failure.

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 bet in a mater of weeks, or perhaps months, the number of  “lost” bags for no good reason (like mine) would be ZERO.

The few remaining lost bags due to really tight gate connections (yes, people can run faster than bags can be delivered) would be be a very managible 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!

Bagage 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 could be eliminated or at least dramatically improved at a low cost. And some might require some dollars to fix – but at what potential cost savings in the future?

Some could become a competitive advantage for a particular airline.

Others might improve the whole air travel experience.

Wow! Imagine the progress that could be made.

Root cause analysis is NOT just reserved for when planes fall out of the sky.

If only the airlines were interested in customer service!

Because no one is investigating this incident, 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.

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Please correct me if I’m wrong about this …

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