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ASK JOURNEYS: App lets you track your lost luggage

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Anyone who has ever had a bag missing after a flight can relate to the frustration. A solution may be on the horizon if all airlines adapt to new technology strategies.

QUESTION: Over the last year on longer trips I have taken, I had my bags lost by airlines twice. In one instance, the bags were delivered to me after a couple of days. In the other, my suitcase was not returned to me until after I returned home more than a week later.

Surely there has to be a better system to prevent this from happening. Is there no way that bags can be easier tracked by the airlines?

ANSWER: There are vastly improved methods in place and one airline in the United States actually offers clients an app from which they can track their own bags.

Just a month ago, US Airways offered customers the same information they use themselves to keep tabs on the thousands of bags that pass through their hands every month.

This technology was first offered by Delta Airlines, the carrier that connects Manitobans to routes throughout the United States and the world via Minneapolis.

The basic tracking mechanism works something like this. When you check in, your bags are scanned. Then they are scanned a second time when they are loaded on the aircraft and a third time when they are off-loaded.

By uploading the app available now from both of these airlines, you can check your bags in real time anytime you are on the ground, either before or after your flight. Since Internet usage is still not allowed in flight, you are not able to check to see if your bags got on the plane once you are instructed to power down your smartphone or iPad appliance.

However, should your bags not appear you can easily check to find out what has happened to them, in the same manner the carriers will.

Delta spokespeople say this free app is currently being employed by about 6,000 people a day. Since so many airports now offer free Wi-Fi, it's really easy for consumers to check on the location of their bags.

In 2011, US Airways reported a 20 per cent improvement in their lost-bags performance with a mishandling ratio of 2.14 per 1,000 bags. This put them in the fifth-best position in the U.S.

There is not yet co-operation between air carriers, so once your bag is transferred to a different airline you have no access to the information. But this tracking mechanism, available to all of us, is a vast improvement in a department that has seen so much consumer anger and frustration.

The next step the two airlines are independently exploring is a way to inform travellers by email about bags that have been mishandled, letting them know the current location of their bags and when they can expect to receive them.

Anyone who has had to make countless calls to find out when their lost luggage is going to arrive will applaud that breakthrough.

QUESTION: I have two interrelated questions. While our visit to China proved to be one of our most impactful journeys, we found travel around the country, as well as the facilities at tourist sites, not at all up to the standards of other countries, even some developing nations. Our trip was years ago. Have they been improved at all?

Secondly, there is a lot of talk about Chinese citizens and their future travel plans into countries like Canada that would bring a significant increase in visitors from this nation.

Isn't that a pipe dream considering the Chinese governments hold onto their own citizens, not wanting them to experience real freedom, preferring to continue keeping them ignorant and at home?

ANSWER: While you would be right on both counts considering the period of time you were there, there seems to have been some dramatic changes in thinking at the core of Chinese politics.

They recently introduced a series of new programs under what they called the Chinese Citizens' Travel Initiatives 2013-2020.

In it, they underscored their commitment to build and improve airports, roadways, service at tourist sites and plans to find ways to rush new accommodation properties near prime tourist areas.

Surprisingly, it also included a section that would promote longer paid holidays for its workers.

While they are anxious to see their own citizen's increase their travel spending in their own country, they are open to working with foreign tour operators who will create overseas Chinese packages for their own people to discover the world.

As strange as it may seem, they recognize they have a new wealthy class that is anxious and determined to visit the places that have interested them during their youth and during their acquisition of wealth.

As Canadians, we need to make sure we are aware of, and ready for, the opportunities that are presenting themselves. Chinese outbound travel has already started to make a significant impact on a number of countries.

It's worth noting that in 2012 the United States saw its number of Chinese visitors increase by 37 per cent over the previous year. More astounding is the realization that China became the third-highest-spending inbound country to the United States, behind only Canada and Brazil.

This unprecedented growth holds huge opportunity for Canada and its regions. Is Canada ready? Is Manitoba ready?

Forward your travel questions to askjourneys@journeystravel.com. Ron Pradinuk is president of Journeys Travel & Leisure SuperCentre and can be heard Sundays at noon on CJOB. Previous columns and tips can be found at www.journeystravelgear.com or read Ron's travel blog at www.thattravelguy.ca.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 13, 2013 D2

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