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Hong Kong International Airport

Why your luggage takes a lot longer to get through Hong Kong airport than you do

World-class efficiency at the airport is tainted by lengthy waits in reclaim hall – and the problem is likely to continue for another 18 months

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 November, 2017, 9:17am
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 November, 2017, 10:50pm

The world-class efficiency at Hong Kong International Airport is frequently let down by a luggage lag as passengers zip through immigration, only to find themselves burdened by a wait in the reclaim hall.

And the problem is likely to trundle on for another 18 months at least.

In the summer, construction began on a 2km conveyor belt linking a detached passenger building to the main arrivals hall, which should be completed by August 2019. But until then, the wait for suitcases is likely to go on as about 80,000 bags arrive daily, more than 2,700 of which will take longer than 40 minutes to reach the reclaim hall.

Lawmakers in the past have raised questions in Hong Kong’s legislature while readers of the Post have often complained about the poor service.

Lee Jae Woon, a Hong Kong-based academic who specialises in aviation, said: “I pay attention to the flow of airports and I have found Hong Kong’s baggage delivery to be exceptionally slow compared with its immigration.”

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On his most recent trip, flying on Hong Kong Airlines, he waited 45 minutes for his bag – a stark contrast to Seoul Incheon airport at the other end of his journey, where the typical wait is no more than 10 to 20 minutes.

The Airport Authority declined to explain why the terminal isolated in the middle of the airfield, which opened in 2015, is still not connected to the main system and has to rely on baggage trucks.

A spokesman shifted the blame onto unspecified airlines. “We noticed underperformance by some airlines and requested they work closely with their ramp-handling operators to improve,” he said.

Two weeks ago, Airport Authority CEO Fred Lam Tin-fuk said the sheer frustration of passengers and airlines showed “there was room for all of us to do better”.

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“The plans that are taking place over the next few years will help achieve that,” Lam said, referring to fixing the baggage service. “We are taking many steps to improve the overall experience of passengers, not just baggage delivery, but check-in facilities and retail experience too.”

The airport chief tried to bat off the concerns, insisting the authority still managed to hit its targets for delivering luggage within a set time.

In the 2016/17 financial year, the first bag arrived at baggage reclaim within 20 minutes 96.8 per cent of the time and the last bag arrived within 40 minutes 96.6 per cent of the time – close to record-high performance levels.

Hong Kong Airlines, the main users of the new terminal, has borne the significant brunt of customer complaints for baggage delays.

Tang King-shing, one of the airline’s top executives, has experienced the frustration first-hand.

“[I] got to the reclaim hall and saw my baggage was delayed and [found myself wondering why]” Tang said. Even though his bag showed up soon after, the “perception” of the delay soured his journey.

The Airport Authority uses the same standard time and criteria for baggage arriving from the detached concourse as it does for airlines operating from the main terminal, giving passengers high expectations of a swift reclaim.

Pleading for a change to reduce passenger expectations that all bags would be delivered fast and in an efficient matter, Tang said: “We presented our case to the authority that they adjust their criteria. It is unfair that our passengers get the wrong impression that our baggage is always delayed. We have a much longer wait than most airlines.”