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Innovation: Curses!

Since everybody’s been blogging about JetBlue over the past few weeks, and since everybody’s missing an essential part of the story, which is the role that passenger management (i.e., computer) systems play in plane delays, I am not going to say word one about JetBlue today. Oh. I guess that was a word, wasn’t it? Anyway, what I wanted talk about here was simple and quick: lost luggage.

Since everybody’s been blogging about JetBlue over the past few weeks, and since everybody’s missing an essential part of the story, which is the role that passenger management (i.e., computer) systems play in plane delays, I am not going to say word one about JetBlue today.

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Oh. I guess that was a word, wasn’t it?

Anyway, what I wanted talk about here was simple and quick: lost luggage.

Recently The Wall Street Journal ran a letter to the editor in which the writer asserted that lost luggage occurs because airlines have no incentive to correct the problem. Apparently, lost luggage is a perpetual curse.

Actually, that’s not true.

If losing luggage was a curse, the airlines would be handing out wreaths of garlic as passengers boarded. Air carriers have plenty of incentive to improve, and that incentive goes by various names: lost revenue; irate passengers; lost customer loyalty; bad PR.

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A key part in the solution to lost luggage is to be found in upgrading — or even replacing — an airline’s computer system, because only a computer can fix something so complex.

I’m sure that you’re thinking, Only a computer can screw up something so complex.

Yes and no.

The problem is that the computer system probably is very old and costly to upgrade.

More than that, even if an airline bites the bullet and makes the big capital investment for a new data system, that system has to be put into place while the old one is still running. I compare it to doing open-heart surgery on a patient who’s walking around.

In recent years, the airlines that have replaced their legacy computer systems — we’re talking data processing systems designed in some cases two generations ago — have found that the “migration process” usually takes three, four, five years, or even longer.

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Sorry, there’s no silver bullet to instantly kill the lost luggage bogeyman.

Having said that, I will also say that once these new passenger management systems are in place — whatever the provider (and here is where I issue my disclosure note that my company engineers just such systems) — lost luggage becomes a far less likely event.

Change is happening at many airlines.

Problems are being solved.

But that’s not news, is it?

If you’re waiting for the day that you’ll read the big front-page story that airlines are hardly ever losing passengers’ luggage anymore, you might as well go cool your jets.

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Airline Futurist • Miami • rbuckman@amadeus.com • www.amadeus.com

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