Employees pile suitcases to test the baggage carousel at a check-in counter inside the entry hall to the Berlin-Brandenburg Willy-Brandt international Airport in Schoenefeld, near Berlin, on November 25, 2019. (Photo by Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP)

Frank Ulrich Montgomery just has “the feeling that you’re sitting in a padded cell and constantly running and bouncing against walls”. The radiologist owes this feeling to three missing suitcases and the company that takes care of his luggage at BER. Or rather: should care.

Because Montgomery, CEO of the World Medical Association, has been waiting for his three suitcases since Monday, since a Lufthansa plane brought him from New York to the airport in Schönefeld.

On Friday he was still waiting. The suitcases didn’t come. And Montgomery is just one case out of hundreds.

Presumably a four-digit number of passengers are waiting for their luggage, which has not landed on the conveyor belt but is lying somewhere or is on the way. And it can take a long time for a courier to finally deliver it.

Now, at the end of the holiday season in Berlin, the number of people affected is likely to increase again for a short time. 195,000 passengers are expected at BER between Friday and Sunday.

72,000 passengers were expected for Friday, and the airport company is assuming around 67,000 for Sunday.

On average, around 70,000 passengers have been registered every weekend since June, says Sabine Deckwerth, spokeswoman for the airport company. Accordingly, many pieces of luggage have not landed at the recipient for weeks.

The problem affects all airports, in Germany and internationally, but transfer airports such as Frankfurt, Munich, London and Amsterdam are particularly affected. Often enough, luggage is not loaded there, and it cannot be unloaded at the destination airport.

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Airport spokeswoman Deckwerth cannot say exactly how many pieces of luggage are currently arriving late each day. “There are no reliable figures on this, as the number of pieces of baggage arriving and the number of pieces of baggage delivered each day fluctuates greatly; it is different for all service providers. No luggage is permanently stored at Berlin Brandenburg Airport,” she said.

The three companies Aeroground, Wisag and Swissport are responsible for loading and unloading luggage at BER. The airlines have commissioned these companies, the airport company BER has nothing to do with baggage handling.

Baggage problems have been around for a long time. They are also the result of staff cuts during the Corona period. And now some companies are struggling to find new staff.

Because you can’t just hire a few temporary workers to balance suitcases. Anyone who works in security-sensitive areas of an airport must be meticulously checked. And that takes time. In addition, there is a high level of sick leave, for example due to Corona or the physically demanding work with suitcases and bags.

From the point of view of Jana Eggert, spokeswoman for Wisag AG, there is no problem with the staff in your company. “Wisag is in the Lost area

Currently, the volume of “baggage from our customer airlines, which we process per day at BER, is an average of 50 pieces of baggage per day,” she says. This corresponds to the average value for the past six months.

But Eggert also concedes what is obvious: “Overall, there has been an increased volume of lost material in recent months due to delays and delays in all air traffic

Nevertheless, the backlog of luggage “cannot be completely avoided, for example if a plane has to take off without luggage and only with passengers and the luggage then has to be handed over to the owner.”

Up until now, Wisag has been working through these increased amounts of luggage in regular time windows. Experience has shown that the luggage is handed over no later than two or three days after the loss is reported.

Aeroground is a subsidiary of Flughafen GmbH Munich. Airport spokesman Edgar Endert admits that “due to the large number of pieces of baggage that have been delivered, processing is delayed and there are waiting times during processing.” The increased volume is due to problems at the pre-airports and not at BER.

The delays in processing are a few days and in individual cases could be longer due to circumstances such as customs clearance. “Basically,” says Engert, “transfer connections at our customers’ hubs are the biggest problem.” The number of baggage items that arrived late has increased by 700 to 900 percent compared to 2021.

The number of employees “in the baggage tracking area has increased by 25 percent compared to 2021,” says Engert. “Six other employees are in training for further short-term support. We are working on easing the situation significantly by the end of August, but we are also dependent on developments at the airports before us.”

The Berlin airport company, says spokeswoman Sabine Deckwerth, has almost no way of speeding up the processes and reducing the suitcase chaos. “The airline or its service providers are responsible for handling the luggage.”

As a provider of the infrastructure, the GmbH “provides our partners with the space they need so that the luggage is protected on the one hand and can be processed as efficiently as possible on the other. At peak times this summer, in close coordination with the responsible companies, we supported the passengers in baggage tracing with airport company staff.

Passengers like Montgomery, who urgently need their luggage, don’t care much for the finer points of responsibility. They want their luggage back. Montgomery is also so annoyed because he has to run after his luggage for the third time in six weeks: in London, in Washington and now in Berlin.

In London he had to wait two and a half weeks, in Washington he had at least a week’s rest. “What annoys me the most,” says Montgomery, “is the nonchalance with which passengers are treated. A suitcase can get lost, no question about it, but you usually have it the next day. But you don’t wait days and get no information.”

On Wednesday, Aeroground announced in an email that at least two of the three missing pieces of luggage should be delivered. Nothing happened. “Since then,” Montgomery says, “I haven’t heard anything.” He called Aeroground’s service number “and couldn’t reach anyone.” He wrote emails, “no reaction”. Montgomery went on vacation with his wife on Friday. This time there will be no problems with the luggage. Destination is the Baltic Sea.