As the aviation industry groans under the weight of surging travel demands and rampant staffing shortages, a video chronicling the suspenseful journey of a stray piece of luggage has captivated TikTok viewers.
TikTok user @jackatyou captured the nail-biting incident from a Delta Air Lines lounge at Nashville International Airport, in which a suitcase fell off a vehicle en route to the aircraft, causing onlookers a lot of anxiety.
The clip documents as at least three airport staff in vehicles pass by the pink suitcase on the tarmac, occasionally examining it before discarding it and driving off. When a "hero" finally retrieves the forgotten piece of luggage, passengers in the lounge cheer, bringing the saga to its triumphant conclusion.
How I bonded with everyone at the delta lounge in Nashville♬ Airplanes - B.o.B feat. Hayley Williams of Paramore
The video, viewed more than 6.3 million times, highlights how an industry buckling under current spiking travel demands can be more vulnerable to such oversights.
The level of mishandled bags spiked by 24 per cent worldwide in 2021, according to a recent report by aviation technology company SITA.
The resumption of international and long-haul flights contributed to a significant increase in delayed, lost and damaged baggage, according to the report's findings.
The study also noted airlines and airports downsizing staff impacted the resources and quality of baggage management, which, unaddressed, could see the level of mishandling continue to rise.
"The industry now needs to do more with less. As we emerge from the pandemic, our customers' focus remains on safely managing the end-to-end transport of passengers' baggage, but now they must also reduce the total cost and training required," said David Lavorel, CEO of SITA.
"There is significant pressure to increase operational efficiency, which is accelerating digitalisation."
Qantas this week apologised to customers affected by baggage delays over the Queen's Birthday weekend, with some travellers waiting nearly a week for bags to arrive.
A Qantas spokesperson noted airports' role in the bungle: "Over the long weekend, we saw a number of baggage delays caused by outages of baggage systems, which are maintained by Sydney and Brisbane airports."
Transport Workers Union of Australia national secretary Michael Kaine said the recent mayhem at airports is a consequence of the mass exodus of experienced aviation workers over the last two years.
"Stood-down security and ground workers were stripped of JobKeeper in an eleventh-hour Morrison government amendment, forcing many to leave the industry," he said.
Kaine added the issue has been driven by the sacking of thousands of ground crew workers during the pandemic. Qantas recently lost an appeal against a Federal Court decision that found the airline's outsourcing of 2000 ground staff to be illegal, though the airline plans to fight the decision in the High Court.
"The shortage of permanent, full-time jobs in favour of low-paid, casual or part-time work is driving chronic understaffing," Kaine said.
"Workers are fatigued, forced to rush and under these conditions, delays, errors and injuries are inevitable."
The union is calling for the federal government to introduce a Safe and Secure Skies Commission to regulate worker conditions and attract quality candidates.
Meanwhile, Australian airports are scaling up their recruitment efforts ahead of the busy July peak travel period; Melbourne and Sydney airports have turned to holding job fairs to fill thousands of positions still vacant, while Brisbane Airport is also working to recruit more frontline staff.
Australian airports are advising travellers to arrive at least three hours early for an international departure and to brace for long waits at check-in and security.