Luggage land in Shahjalal mess | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, August 04, 2010 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, August 04, 2010

Luggage land in Shahjalal mess

Nearly 30 passengers forced to leave the airport without luggage every day; baggage pilferage among common complaints

Mishandling of luggage, coupled with harassment, has become almost a regular part of passengers' itineraries at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport.
Around 30 incoming passengers have to leave the airport everyday without their luggage. In April over 150 lost luggage complaints were lodged, 60 of which were filed by passengers carried by Emirates alone.
Two to five Bangladesh Biman passengers lose their luggage on a daily basis, said Sharifur Rahman, assistant station manager of the Directorate of Customer Service of the national flag carrier.
On top of that there are regular complaints about packed items being stolen through luggage tampering including slashing, and long delays in putting luggage on carousels for passengers to pick up.
When luggage are lost, owners have to face bureaucratic run around to lodge complaints and recover the luggage, many passengers alleged.
The number of complaints is lesser during the lean season between March and October, but during the peak season between November and February it rises to over 1,000 a month.
Every year the airport handles approximately 35 lakh to 40 lakh passengers, while 22 international airlines including the national carrier use it daily.
Mishandling and tampering of luggage is going on at the airport despite the fact that since 2001 personnel of the Armed Police Battalion, Ansars, civil aviation security, and Biman security have been keeping watch while luggage are unloaded from craft.
Ayesha Begum, who landed at the airport from Riyadh by a flight of Saudi Arabia Air Lines on the morning of May 9, had to wait three hours to know from the ground handling crew that her luggage was missing.
Then she went to the local office of Saudi Arabia Air Lines at the airport, but the airline staff, who attended to her, extended no help. She was not even given any instruction about what to do, she alleged.
Ayesha, who was travelling alone, said she had to knock on many doors before she finally reached the airport's lost and found counter to lodge a complaint.
Officials at the lost and found desk told her that they would contact her if they could trace the luggage. She had to leave the airport without her luggage.
During a three-hour visit to the airport recently, The Daily Star came across five passengers from the Middle East who lost their luggage.
The airport authorities pointed out a number of factors which contribute to the problems.
The Ground Handling Department of Bangladesh Biman handles entire luggage load of incoming and outgoing passengers manually, with 180 employees while the requirement is for 300, Sharifur Rahman said.
Some other officials said when passengers spend only a short time at transit airports abroad to catch connecting flights, loaders often do not get enough time to segregate their luggage, which result in luggage staying behind to be on a different flight.
Some times wrong luggage are loaded on aircraft at transit airports, and the tags often get detached during handling, which also result in lost luggage, the officials added.
They also said the number of luggage that are broken or cut into has been on the rise recently, as transit airports in the Middle East started opening luggage on security grounds, a practice that had first started at airports in Europe and the US in the aftermath of the 9/11 incident.
Aviation experts said the lone international airport in Dhaka still uses primitive procedures and equipment for baggage handling which contribute to the delay in luggage being put on carousels for passengers.
Against such a backdrop the authorities took steps to automate the baggage handling system.
Sharifur Rahman said in December this year they will introduce Baggage Reconciliation System (BRS), a computerised automated baggage handling system, phasing out the existing manual one. The move is expected to bring down mishandling of luggage to a great extent, he added.
In the existing system, incoming luggage are put on go-carts manually, and then put on carousels, also manually. Through the process luggage often fall from the carts and the carousels, or their tags are often torn off, due to jostling and throwing.
When the system will be automated, sophisticated machines designed for baggage handling will be used for loading and unloading, greatly reducing damage or loss due to jostling and throwing, Sharifur said.
As a part of its automation efforts, the airport authorities already took an initiative to procure eight such machines.
As luggage mishandling appears as a global phenomenon, International Air Transport Association (IATA) also came up with some ideas to ameliorate the problem, and informed all member airports including the Shahjalal about those.
In June this year the IATA Board of Governors approved Automated Carrier Baggage Rules project, at its meeting in Berlin. The project will provide a central database for interline baggage rules, enabling airlines, travel agents, and passengers to know what baggage rules will apply for any given itinerary, according to an email sent to The Daily Star by the association's Singapore office.
IATA is partnering with Airline Tariff Publishing Company (ATPCO), which will host the central database. The international association will mobilise airlines to submit their baggage rules to ATPCO by September this year, in an effort to create an international standard for baggage handling at its member airports.

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