Bag behaviour: when baggage handlers go bad

I had to laugh at all the fuss this week over a YouTube clip of Canadian baggage handlers tossing luggage around.

Travellers from all over the world have been flocking to social media to express outrage over bags being dropped several metres from an aircraft into a luggage bin at Toronto’s international airport.

No, it’s not funny when your bag gets bashed about and things get broken, but it is amusing that people are still shocked.

Since the advent of YouTube, there have been regular caught-on-camera demonstrations of how luggage can fly and bounce (not so well, as it happens) and the only thing that amazes me is that anyone wanting to keep their job is still stupid enough to do it in plain sight.

I’ve never bothered to film it and put it on YouTube, but I’ve certainly seen it happen, from the windows of various aircraft and airport terminals.

I once sat helplessly watching my bag sitting in a huge puddle after being lobbed right over the top of the baggage trolley.

Numerous ground crew went past but it was quite some time before anyone bothered to retrieve it.

If you think stories such as the Canadian baggage handlers are isolated incidents, they’re sadly not; the internet is full of similar tales and footage.

Check out this guy hoiking bags off a carousel in Hong Kong – I love the way he starts neatly lining them up when someone comes along.


And you have to admire the strength of this female baggage handler at a US airport – never pack liquids or breakables in your luggage, my friends.

How about this guy, completely oblivious to the fact that bags are falling off the top of the conveyor belt, even when they’re narrowly missing his head.

Or this woman, merrily shoving luggage off a conveyor belt onto the ground. She probably had to pick all the bags up again later, but she completed the immediate task of clearing the conveyor belt.

My favourite baggage handling story is the tale of passengers looking out from the terminal at Sydney Airport to see a ‘camel’ being driven across the tarmac.

Back in 2005, marketing manager David Cox checked in luggage containing a camel costume and couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw, a short time later, the camel head being worn by one of the ground crew.

The case was disturbing in that baggage handlers had opened a passenger’s luggage, but I wish I’d been there to see it.

The most famous baggage handling story is undoubtedly that of Canadian musician Dave Carroll, who was so upset about his guitar getting broken on a United Airlines flight that he wrote a song about it.

Carroll says the 2008 song, United Breaks Guitars, has reached more than 150 million people through social media.

His creative approach to complaining has proved as much a career boost for Carroll as it has a public relations nightmare for the airline, with two further songs, a book and speaking engagements following the original hit.

Another attempt to see the funny side came from Welsh comedian Rhod (Rhod) Gilbert, who has had plenty of mileage out of having his bag destroyed by an airline.

Gilbert likes to blame a different carrier depending on where he is telling the story, but I still laugh every time I listen to him describe having nothing but the bag’s handle returned to him.

The good news, if you’re feeling a bit depressed about the treatment of your possessions, is that while airlines may not be very gentle with our bags, they’re getting better at keeping track of them.

The latest annual SITA Baggage Report says ‘mishandled’ baggage (in the sense of misplaced or delayed rather than battered about) fell to a new low in 2013, largely due to advances in technology.

While the number of people flying grew more than 65 per cent over the ten years from 2003 to 2013, the mishandling of baggage almost halved.

For every thousand passengers who flew in 2013, 6.96 bags were misdirected or mishandled (the 0.96 being the remainder of Rhod Gilbert’s luggage?).

Transfers and connections continue to be the biggest cause of bags going astray, accounting for nearly half of all delayed bags.

SITA says airlines are getting better at segregating bags with short connection times, to ensure they make the onward flight.