Baggage Claim

30 Years Without a Lost Bag: How Kansai Airport Achieves High Reliability in Baggage Handling

Mark Galley

Since its opening in 1994, Japan’s Kansai Airport has not lost a single piece of luggage. To put this into perspective, the average rate of lost luggage across the industry is 7.6 lost bags per 1,000 travelers. Kansai handled 10 million bags in 2023 alone and didn’t lose a single one. How do they do it?

Reliability Built into Processes

Every time a plane flies into Kansai Airport, the type and number of bags onboard are checked and cross-referenced with passenger information by at least two staff. If the number of bags at arrival fails to match the number of bags recorded on departure, staff search until the items are located. Next, the bags are delivered to the baggage sorting room, where staff work in pairs to double-check that no bags are left behind. Airport staff hand-deliver delicate items and even dry off bags that get caught in the rain, to ensure each bag gets to its passenger unharmed. Below, we’ve visualized Kansai’s process based on what we know.

Baggage Handling Process Map

Baggage Handling Simple Process Map

Kansai’s performance in baggage handling is exceptional in its quality and speed. Baggage handlers aim to deliver luggage from the plane to baggage claim in 15 minutes or less. Kansai’s baggage delivery efficiency has earned Stytrax’s “World’s Best Airport for Baggage Delivery” award eight times.

Continuous Improvement Driven by the Frontline

At Kansai Airport, frontline staff are the driving force behind continuous improvement in baggage handling. The airport has a detailed baggage handling manual with specific processes for each airline, and this manual is updated regularly with input from frontline staff.

Staff are encouraged to communicate openly as they perform their day-to-day work. In an interview with Nikkei Asia, baggage operations supervisor Tsuyoshi Habuta explained, “It’s important for multiple staff members to share information to prevent mistakes arising from erroneous assumptions.”

Commitment to World-Class Customer Experience

We often associate high reliability with high-risk scenarios, such as medication dosing in healthcare and precision engineering for commercial aviation. Lost baggage, on the other hand, is generally not a life-or-death situation. For the aviation industry, lost baggage also isn’t a particularly costly issue. Mishandled bags cost the industry around $600 million a year, a paltry sum when annual revenues are in the hundreds of billions.

Yet, Kansai is committed to achieving “an unparalleled customer experience through rapid-operating processes and world-class customer services.” For airport customers, baggage handling is often the first point of contact with the airport’s service quality. By ensuring every bag arrives safely and promptly, Kansai sets the tone for a positive journey from the moment passengers step off the plane.

Every process can benefit from improved reliability. But just as Kansai Airport prioritizes reliability in its baggage handling processes to achieve its aim of delivering world-class customer service, your company’s goals determine where you want to be highly reliable. To learn how guide your organization toward high reliability, check out our on-demand course on High-Reliability Leadership.

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