It is familiar scene at airports around the world, but one that has become far less common than just a few years ago: a disgruntled passenger looking at a nearly empty baggage carrousel, wondering where his luggage might be.

SITA’s latest “Baggage Report,” released last month, stated that 99.1% of checked baggage was delivered on time during 2011, marking “the highest rate of successful delivery” in the eight years it has produced the report. SITA said the mishandled rate has more than halved since 2007, down 52.4% from 18.88 bags per 1,000 passengers in 2007 to 8.99 bags per 1,000 passengers last year.

“Overall, over the last five years we have continued to see a downward trend in bags that are being delayed,” SITA baggage portfolio director Nick Gates told ATW. “It’s not one thing, but a variety things going on.”

One obvious factor is the implementation of checked baggage fees by many airlines around the world over the past five years. “There is some indication that fewer bags are now being checked in,” Gates said, noting this has reduced the pressure on the system.

But airports and airlines have taken proactive steps to improve baggage handling, he added.

IATA, for example, conducted an extensive “baggage improvement program” (ATW, March 2010) in which it visited major airports around the globe to study the baggage situation at each facility and provide “help and advice on how to handle bags more efficiently,” Gates said.

Also, more airports and airlines are deploying “technology systems that track where the bags are.” This both leads to fewer misplaced bags and helps “allow airlines and airports to monitor where bags are, and when they get misplaced it’s easier to find them and put them on the right aircraft,” according to Gates.

There is a caveat, however. SITA stated, “Despite the great strides made by the air transport industry to improve mishandling over the last few years, the main—and growing—contributor to the problem is ‘transfer bags.’ Typically, these bags go astray when passengers and their luggage are moving from one aircraft to another, and often from one carrier to another, en route to their final destination. Regardless of the type of journey, mishandled baggage is an inconvenience for the passenger and an unwelcome cost for the airlines. In total, transfer bags account for 53% of all delayed luggage and costs the industry at least $1.36 billion per annum.”