By Vicky Anscombe on 31 March 2016

We’ve all been there once. You hop off the plane, and head to arrivals to pick up your suitcase. You wait by the conveyor belt, and nothing happens - your bag’s nowhere to be seen. What do you do next?

Karin Timothy is an Arrival Services Manager at British Airways. She’s worked in various capacities in Arrivals for 13 years, so she’s the right person to ask about everything baggage-related. Essentially, Karin and her team are working hard to ensure your luggage is waiting for you when you arrive in the baggage hall. And if it’s not, they’ll be able to help you.

Karin’s just one of many people working behind the scenes and around the clock to reunite you with your belongings. It’s a complicated job that involves working with teams across the globe to find runaway bags, and return them to travellers.

What made you decide to take your current role?

I took it for the challenges that the role brings, and also the satisfaction of tracing bags using my wealth of experience. It’s hugely gratifying to see someone back with their lost bags.

Why do most people lose their bags?

It depends, really! It doesn’t happen often, though. Every day, we take great pride in carrying thousands of bags safely and speedily to their final destination, where the vast majority arrive on time. We operate more than 700 flights every day, and, thanks to our sophisticated baggage tracking system, it’s very rare for a bag to be lost. On the odd occasion when a customer’s bag cannot be found, we ensure that we do everything that we can to reunite the item with its owner.

The main reason for bags not arriving with a customer is due to a transfer process where customers have changed aircraft as part of their journey. Either there is not enough time between the connecting flights, or one airline fails to hand it to the onward carrier.

Attaching label to bag

Would you recommend that everyone adds tags or stickers to their luggage?

I would say that the brighter the bag, the better! Also, it’s a good idea to attach something on the outside that makes it recognisable. We do have customers who take other people's bags by mistake because they look so similar.

Also, I’d advise people to attach a tag with name, flight number and the date of their flight. A home address doesn't always help if the customer is on holiday!

If someone's bag doesn’t appear, what’s the first thing they should do?

If you can't see your bag, then you should contact the customer service desk in the arrivals area – they’ll do everything they can to help.

We try to be as proactive as possible when someone comes to us with an issue. If we have a notification from the departure airport that the bag has missed the flight, then will make an announcement and start proceedings to find the bag.

Man handling luggage

How do you help people find their bags? What processes do you go through?

We take a missing baggage report, which among other things includes the customer’s name, flight number, the date of travel, a description of the bag and an address for delivery. This is entered into a system called Worldtracer, which uses these elements to try and locate a bag without a home. It’s a great system, but it’s only as good as the information that people give us.

Thanks to advances in technology, we can now often trace where the bag has last been scanned.  On some occasions, I will use ‘detective work’.

So, for example, one bag arrived at Heathrow with no tag and it did not match any missing bag reports.  Inside were two copies of the same paperback novel.  I thought it was strange to take two copies of the same book on a trip, so I did a renewed search for the bag’s owner using the name of the books’ author.  Happily, this worked and the bag was reunited with our customer - who turned out to be the author!

Bags on aircraft

Realistically, what are the chances of a lost bag being found?

There’s a very good chance we can find a missing bag. The vast majority of bags are located within 24 hours.

How do you get found luggage back to its owner?

If the owner is outside of the UK, we will fly the bag to their destination and the bag will be forwarded on to its owner on our behalf. If the customer is within the UK, we will use a courier company to deliver the bag directly to their address.

Is the job hugely frustrating and rewarding in equal measure?

It’s frustrating because the systems that we use for tracing baggage are great, but only if people use it correctly. The job’s also hugely rewarding, because a customer's baggage is invariably packed with personal possessions, souvenirs, and things which matter to them. After all these years, there's still nothing quite like the feeling of finding a much-desired bag!

How do you deal with angry, tired people who want to know where their bags are?

I try to be as empathetic as possible. I’ve had bags go missing, and it’s no fun when you have two small children! My colleagues and I are mindful that missing baggage can really impact on a customer’s experience so we do our very best to assist them. Every customer has their own individual needs - we try and be as helpful as possible.

BA Ground Crew

Do you have any heart-warming stories?

Working in a department that deals mainly in service recovery can certainly have its challenges – however, the rewards can be immense. We’re always honest with our customers and keep in touch with them. We may not always have good news, but we can always share what we know, and we make sure that the customer knows what measures are being taken to locate their bags.

Every customer comes with their own story, and there have certainly been a few over the years! One particular story stays with me. We were assisting a customer whose young granddaughter had passed away. The grandmother’s suitcase was missing, and it contained a videotape of the grandchild, which was obviously very precious to her.

Fortunately, I managed to locate the bag – the tag had come off, and it was sent to its rightful owner.  It's a great feeling knowing that you've made a difference.

Should your bags ever go walkies, Columbus Direct travel insurance can cover lost, stolen and delayed baggage up to £2,500. Enough for you to be able to grab a few essentials and enjoy your holiday while you wait for your bags!

Image credit:

← Easter flight delays: Columbus Direct offers customers free lounge access

What’s it like to work as a chalet host with your partner? →