When S. Hamid Mohd Yusof, 57, joined AeroDarat Services in 2017, he was asked to transform the mishandled baggage team at Malaysia Airlines (MAS). AeroDarat is the ground handling arm of MAS.
Staff members in the mishandled baggage team are in charge of assisting airport ground services with passengers’ luggage by preventing loss or delayed arrival of bags. They are also tasked to locate and deliver missing luggage to passengers. There are 30 staff members in the mishandled baggage team.
“Usually when a passenger is waiting for a bag at the luggage carousel and it does not arrive at all, it means that the bag has been left behind at another airport. It could be due to human error, for instance, if the staff didn’t have enough time to process the bag for departure,” Hamid explained during an interview at Sepang, Selangor.
Formerly an air traffic control and communication officer with the RMAF, Hamid was given the task of reducing the average number of mishandled luggage from around 950 pieces a month to just below 150.
On average, his team will go through at least 17,000 bags a day. Half of those are transit bags that belong to passengers with connecting flights.
“On certain days, transit bags are a major priority for the team. We need to prevent mishandled transit bags in order to bring down our monthly average.”
Bags in transit are more likely to get misplaced if the team does not have ample time to process the bags after the first flight arrives at the airport. Ideally, Hamid said, his team would like to have at least one hour in between flights to manage passengers’ luggage. “Sometimes the plane arrives late and my team has only about 20 minutes to manage the bags. In this situation, some passengers are likely to miss their bags.”
Hamid said that, to achieve the target of below 150 mishandled bags a month, he began by slowly encouraging the team to change their mindset.
“I said, we can slowly bring down over 900 bags a month to, perhaps, a certain average in a week. We can’t drastically bring it down yet but we are going to work towards it. During that initial period, I got to know the team and identify underlying issues to improve that will ultimately help us to secure our below 150 target.”
One of the changes that Hamid introduced was to “intercept at arrival”, which means the team should start processing luggage earlier – when the plane arrives – as opposed to waiting for the bags to be delivered to the next processing station.
He admitted that it wasn’t easy in the initial stage to change the working environment at the KL International Airport where his team is based.
“I couldn’t go in and immediately tell everyone that we have to achieve our target. Nobody is going to listen to me. I was an outsider speaking to some people with at least 20 years of working experience. They are in a comfort zone that was hard to get out off. I understand that. “So we had to introduce measures to fix those issues first.”
Hamid said he moved some staff members around for them to try out different tasks, learn to adapt to new responsibilities, and acquire the skills needed. At one point, he asked for members from his team to be stationed at the Missing Luggage Office (MLO), where front-line staff are tasked to deal with passengers who have lost their luggage.
“I told them they need to know what happens when luggage is misplaced. Their colleagues have to deal with mostly angry passengers. They get yelled at or treated badly. I told my team that they can only respond with ‘Yes, sir’ or ‘Sorry, sir’. It was an important experience for them as they learnt to empathise with their colleagues and develop a sense of accountability.”
His approach worked. In March last year, his team managed to reduce the monthly average of misplaced luggage to around 100. Their effort was recognised by the company and they were given a Way Of Working (WOW) award, an internal award for outstanding achievements by staff members at MAS. The team also received a cash prize of RM1,000.
“I don’t know how to describe the feeling of seeing them on stage. I could see it on their faces that they had a sense of pride! I was happy for them.”
He recalled how some of the team members bought new blazers just for the award ceremony.
“I made them reuse the blazers to greet customers at MLO,” he shared, with a laugh.
But Hamid insisted that he does not deserve all the credit for transforming the mishandled luggage team. He pointed to his colleague Noor Fazli Razali, the team duty manager, as the more deserving person.
“I can only plan things but Fazli helps me to execute most of it. Without him, nothing will happen.”
Hamid hopes to help the team achieve a new target this year. He said that AeroDarat chief executive officer Mohd Nadziruddin Mohd Basri would like to see them hit an average of four missing luggage per 1,000 passengers.
According to Business Traveller, last year’s global average for misplaced bags was 5.69 for every 1,000 passengers.
“When I joined, people expected me to behave like a drill sergeant. But I know I can’t force the same plan on everyone. People have different levels of understanding and skills. I feel we can work together better when we allow people to do what they are good at or find areas where they can shine. In turn, we can all work better to achieve the same goal.”