Country Known For Incredible Reliability Proves It’s Possible To Run An Airport Without Losing Luggage

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Image: Kansai Airport Group

Japan’s Kansai airport, located on a slowly sinking artificial island in Osaka bay, opened in September of 1994, and despite handling millions of bags per year, has never lost a single piece of luggage. According to reports from Forbes, the airport prides itself in its ability to get every piece of luggage from the belly of the plane to the baggage claim in under 15 minutes. The airport has multiple layers of checks in place to make sure bags don’t grow legs and walk away.

“It’s important for multiple staff members to share information to prevent mistakes arising from erroneous assumptions,” said Tsuyoshi Habuta, who supervises baggage operations at CKTS.

There isn’t any secret sauce to keeping track of bags. Keeping a count of the number of bags offloaded from an airplane is a major mover here, as it instantly notifies planeside personnel if they’re short a bag they can go searching for. The airport requires airlines to provide detailed information on where each bag is stowed in an aircraft. As with many Japanese businesses, Kansai implemented a Kaizen approach to the operation of moving baggage, looking to continually improve and implement suggestions from workers on the front lines. It’s a very effective strategy, it would seem.

Even Carlos Ghosn’s infamous instrument case was transported through Kansai without issue.

As an automotive writer flying a few dozen times a year, I haven’t travelled with a checked bag since 2017. I’ve dealt with too many lost bags in the past and simply reduce all of my luggage to carry on with me, regardless of how far I’m going or how long I’ll be gone. I’d much rather deal with doing laundry in a French hotel basement than tracking down a misplaced roller bag with all my underwear in it. Even knowing Kansai’s record, I’m not sure I’d want to change my policy if I were flying there. There are still plenty of opportunities for my shit to get left behind at my origin airport, or some random layover en route.

During the busiest months of the year, luggage mishandling rises to around 0.75 percent. The job of an airport is to move people and their stuff around the world. It’s certainly more important that the people get to their destinations safely, but lost luggage is a true annoyance. Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport moves about 100,000 pieces of luggage per day, and if it is mishandling the industry average of 0.75 percent of them, that’s 750 lost bags in a single day. Yikes.

Kansai says it expects to see some 37 million passengers in 2025, up more than double from the 13.99 million who travelled through in 2023. If the airport can continue its track record of baggage excellence with the influx of new travelers, it will truly be impressive.

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