Page last updated at 11:27 GMT, Sunday, 30 March 2008 12:27 UK

How do you clear a bags backlog?

By Anna Browning
BBC News

Baggage build-up at Heathrow
A total of 400 extra staff have been drafted in to deal with the bag crisis

As BA battles to disperse its luggage mountain after glitches in baggage handling helped derail its new Heathrow terminal, just how does it deal with such a logistical challenge?

Reassuringly for passengers caught up in the events of the past few days they will all be reunited with their luggage - it's just a question of when, according to aviation expert David Learmount, of Flight International magazine.

"The airlines are in the business of logistics. It's not really a problem. It is not terribly difficult to put right," he said.

"The only reason a passenger wouldn't get their luggage is if the tag has been ripped off, but I have never heard of it happening," he said.

But perhaps a little disconcerting for those holidaymakers who have already begun their time away bag-less, it is unlikely they will be reunited with their belongings until they return.

Their cases will inevitably be returned to their home address.

All in code

It is the barcoded tag that suitcases are labelled with upon check-in that holds the key.

That barcode holds details such as a passenger's name, their flight details and where they live.

One things that's worse than having a stack of 15,000 bags is adding 5,000 a day to that heap
David Learmount
Aviation expert

"Remarkably few people actually label where they are going to, which is actually pretty wise," said Mr Learmount.

Because what your bag's barcode does not contain is your holiday dates.

For that the airline would have to access this information via a computer - and this requires significantly more resources, such as manpower.

400 extra staff

So, once it has identified your belongings, how will the airline actually get you bags back to you?

According to a BA spokeswoman it is using 400 extra volunteer staff and courier companies to wade through the backlog.

Mr Learmount said airlines will use whichever method is at their disposal.

In the past his lost luggage has arrived home in a taxi, for instance.

In addition, there is a worldwide agreement between airlines which means they carry lost luggage for each other.

What went wrong graphic

For an airline to put on freight flights especially, as happened in 2007 when faulty equipment and bad weather sparked such a crisis, he said the situation would have to be "pretty desperate".

Meanwhile, resources would be poured into sorting the cause of the problem.

Lost luggage embarrassed airlines - it was bad for customer relations - so they would be making every effort not to lose any more, he said.

"It's a terrible, terrible PR nightmare to have hanging over you," he said.

"Somebody who may have been a faithful customer and still not have their luggage after three weeks, it's not good for their image.

"All of BA's resources at the moment are going to be ploughed into making sure the people who turn up today have a good flight.

"One thing that's worse than having a stack of 15,000 bags is adding 5,000 a day to that heap.

"BA has got to sort Terminal 5 out and that's where they have to put their resources."

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