Airlines report baggage issues

Airlines report baggage issues

July 19th, 2009 by Mike Pare in Businesstopstory

Staff Photo by Dan Henry Candy Clepper, left, waits with her husband Mike Clepper for their luggage upon arriving at the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport from Las Vegas on Wednesday. A recent surey by the U.S. Department of Transportation has ranked American eagle and ASA at the bottom of their list for mishandled baggage.

Two airlines which provide key service to Chattanooga are at the bottom for handling passenger luggage, according to U.S. Department of Transportation figures.

Atlantic Southeast Airlines and American Eagle have alternated as the worst or next to worst carriers among 19 airlines tracked nationally though May, the Air Travel Consumer Report shows.

In May, American Eagle, which flies nonstops from Chattanooga to both Chicago and Dallas-Fort Worth, was ranked 19th with 7.44 reports nationally of mishandled luggage per 1,000 passengers.

ASA, which runs up to 10 flights daily between Chattanooga and Atlanta, was next to last with 6.24 reports nationally per 1,000 passengers.

The average was 3.56 reports among the 19 largest airlines tracked for the month.

Airport spokeswoman Christina Siebold said Lovell Field officials typically hear little from passengers about Eagle service.

ASA's baggage handling operations have been contracted out in recent months to Pinnacle Airlines, which is based out of Memphis, she said.

Ms. Siebold said Pinnacle for many years handled luggage for Northwest Airlink's flights between Chattanooga and Memphis, and the airport received few complaints from travelers on that route.

However, traveler Don Ashlock, who uses Chattanooga's airport periodically, said he has had some poor experiences concerning luggage and won't check his bags when flying from the city.

Recently, he said, he was picking up his son flying into Chattanooga from Atlanta and the flight was late. In addition, Mr. Ashlock said it took about an hour before his son received his luggage.

"The luggage doesn't have that far to go," he said, citing the distance between the gate at the airport and the baggage claim area.

Ms. Siebold said the U.S. DOT numbers typically relate to lost luggage. She said the airport doesn't keep figures related to late luggage, though it does monitor baggage issues.

"If we get input from passengers, that's when we start having dialogue with airlines," Ms. Siebold said, asking if the airport can help the carriers.

But, she said, the airport receives few complaints on mishandled bags.

PDF: Air Travel Consumer Report

BAGGAGE HANDLING

Best airlines for May:

* AirTran Airways

* Hawaiian Airlines

* Northwest Airlines

Worst airlines for May:

* American Eagle

* Atlantic Southeast Airlines

* SkyWest Airlines

Source: U.S. Department of Transportation

"If mishandled bags occur, typically the issue transpires prior to a passenger's arrival in Chattanooga, and is not reflective of airline staff and operators at the Chattanooga airport," Ms. Siebold said.

Ms. Siebold said that after a plane parks at the airport gate, there is an operational standard to get luggage to the baggage area in about 15 minutes.

Joe Williams, a spokesman for Pinnacle, said taking an hour for a passenger to retrieve luggage shouldn't happen in a standard operation.

He said if there are unusual situations, such as chronic delays, those could extend the times.

Mr. Williams said the airline had "composite figures" for late luggage in its system but nothing specific to Chattanooga.

Pinnacle was 15th in the May U.S. DOT rankings for mishandled baggage.

Kate Modolo, a spokeswoman for ASA, said it is the airline's intent to get passengers their luggage as soon as possible.

"Our goal is to match the bag with the passenger quickly," she said.