Despite concerns recently voiced by the European Commission, a new report claims mishandled luggage figures were substantially down in 2008.
Information technology specialist SITA's annual baggage report for the year says the number of delayed, damaged or pilfered checked bags fell by over a fifth in 2008 to 32.8 million.
Unrecovered bags numbers also tumbled, from 1.28 million to 736,000. Transit bags remained the single biggest problem area.
The European Commission recently initiated an investigation into mishandled baggage, as part of its efforts to underpin advances in passenger rights, after the UK Civil Aviation Authority's Air Transport Users Council published poor baggage figures for 2007.
But the SITA report indicates that the situation has improved somewhat. SITA chief executive Francesco Violante says: "The good news is that, for the first time since we started publishing this report, there has been a significant drop in both mishandling and lost baggage rates."
He claims that, with almost 10 million fewer bags mishandled last year, the industry saved some $800 million.
Violante admits the decline is partly due to newly-introduced fees, which have resulted in fewer checked bags and cut the potential for mishandling. But he adds that schemes such as IATA's Baggage Improvement Programme and SITA's integrated baggage management solutions are also delivering results.
SITA operates WorldTracer, the industry-standard system for tracing lost and mishandled bags, used by over 440 airlines and ground-handling companies worldwide. Last year WorldTracer showed a mishandling rate of 14.3 bags per 1,000 passengers, compared with 18.9 in 2007.
IATA's Baggage Improvement Programme aims to halve baggage mishandling by 2012, generating annual industry savings of up to $1.9 billion.