Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Comair deals with baggage pilfering as problem gets ‘out of control’

Comair, which manages British Airways and in South Africa, says it is tackling the scourge of baggage theft head-on. This comes after SAA said baggage theft at OR Tambo International Airport was out of control, with more than a dozen bags being stolen every day.

Gidon Novick, the joint chief executive of Comair, said efforts to deal with baggage pilfering was yielding results. “Less than one per 5 000 bags carried on Comair flights is being pilfered,” Novick told IOL. This works out to .2 per 1 000 bags, which is less than the international average of .3 bags per 1 000.

Last month South African Airways (SAA) CEO Siza Mzimela said that “baggage theft remains very high and OR Tambo International is out of control”. She added that pilfering at South Africa’s other airports was also “very high”. SAA’s acting head of group corporate affairs, Dileseng Koetle, said that pilfering at OR Tambo was .6 bags per 1 000.

"How can we promote SA as a tourist destination if their first experience of the country is the loss of their luggage?" asked Greg Krumbock of the Democratic Alliance.

According to a report released by SITA several years ago, 98% of the 2.25 billion items of luggage checked in at the world’s airports arrive at the right time at the right place. But the remaining percentile still amounts to 42 million bags, passenger frustration and US$3.8 billion in fines.

The Airports Company of South Africa (ACSA) said it had been working hard to solve the problem, which has been on the decline over the past few years. ACSA head of communications Solomon Makgale, said there had been “a consistent improvement” in the situation for the past five years and the average number of bags pilfered at OR Tambo had dropped from 36 a day to 14 a day. Since January last year, 18 people at OR Tambo have had their access cards blacklisted after being caught pilfering luggage.

Makgale said that baggage theft happens in three main areas – within the baggage sorting system, on the way to the aircraft, and in the hold of the aircraft. Consequently, “ACSA has installed CCTV cameras which enable us to catch the criminals in the act,” in the sorting area. He recommended that airlines install CCTV cameras in the holds of their aircraft.

Novick said Comair had improved the baggage pilfering situation by physically monitoring baggage whilst it was at the airport and getting baggage handlers to wear thick gloves so they cannot feel the contents of the luggage. “If an irregularity is found, baggage handlers’…restroom and lockers are searched both at the departure and arrival airports,” Novick said. “Staff face disciplinary action and polygraph testing if warranted.”

“We will continue to take this zero tolerance approach with all loopholes tightly closed until pilfering is eradicated,” Novick told IOL.

Other airlines are also taking steps to mitigate the problem. British Airways said its team at OR Tambo has seen a decline in baggage damage and pilfering and that security guards were present when bags were being loaded and unloaded.

Mango spokesperson Hein Kaiser told IOL that “presently pilferage averages between 0.2% and 0.6% dependent on the time of year,” adding that “Mango continues to work with all role players including ACSA, the SA Police Service, our shareholder SAA, and other airlines among others toward a remedy.”