How luggage handling will hamper Toronto’s bid for a future Olympics

A slightly different article for a change…

Toronto has twice bid unsuccessfully for the Olympics and is well poised for a third attempt with the 2015 games.  However, all will be for naught if nothing is done to improve luggage handling efficiency at Pearson Airport.

Today was a good data point – my flight arrived in the morning just after 9 AM and only three other flights had arrived around the same time.  The first suitcases from our flight did not appear until twenty minutes after passengers had deplaned, and after four bags had appeared on the conveyor belt, all activity ceased for a good five minutes.  Obviously all the bags were available on the carts to be placed on the belt so one can only assume that it was a process breakdown that prevented the other bags from being delivered (mechanical or perhaps a mandatory coffee break time?).

While this was frustrating enough, once luggage arrival resumed I observed that my bag (which had been tagged in Chicago with a Priority label) was the very last bag to arrive.  At nearly every other airport I travel to, Priority tags are honored and bags bearing those tags are the first offloaded.  Once again, the process broke down.

Now scale this situation to the potential volume of visitors to Toronto for Olympic games – without improvement to these luggage handling procedures I’m sure the IOC might have some concerns.

So what would I recommend?

1. As is the case in a few other airports I’ve visited, make better use of the expensive LED panels above each conveyor belt that are currently only displaying the flight numbers by adding an “expected delivery time” – studies have proven that people are able to tolerate delays better if they have some sense of the magnitude of the delay than if no information is provided.

2. Once you start delivering bags for one flight, continue until all bags have been delivered.  If a mechanical problem prevents this, utilize an alternate conveyor belt or at least communicate to waiting passengers why there is a delay.

3. There is no value in having Priority tags if tagged luggage is treated with no priority.  Surely Toronto’s luggage handlers can be taught to order the bags on a carts such that the tagged bags are delivered first?  This can’t be a challenging concept if the staff at most other North American airports are able to get it right.

Now you might feel that Pearson Airport is Canada’s largest airport and hence has to deal with significantly more volume than many other North American airports.  This may be true, but Sydney’s (Australia not Nova Scotia!) airport is able to fully offload multiple jumbo jets’ luggage within a matter of 15-20 minutes so it is possible to deliver luggage efficiently in spite of volume.

Perhaps the Olympics will be sufficiently valuable to convince the GTAA and the luggage handlers to optimize their processes – if not, this could be a case of “three strikes and you’re out!”

Categories: Process Peeves | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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