Zurich airport, Switzerland

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Airports are a hive of activity as passengers pass through on their way to a different destination. Behind the scenes at Zurich Airport, baggage handlers are working to ensure that passengers’ bags get safely delivered to them. Experience the sights and sounds of this tightly-planned operation, as we take you beyond security and through to a side of airport life most travellers never normally see.

It’s a bright and sunny morning in Zurich. The air is filled with the grinding and whirring of machinery and the roar of aeroplanes cutting through the sky. Between landings and take-offs, the ground crew are in action. They’re preparing for the arrival of Swiss International Air Lines, Airbus 320, from Frankfurt, scheduled for 9.35am.

A so-called ‘Foreign Object Debris’ (FOD) check is carried out by the onsite ramp team. As the plane comes to a halt on the apron – the aircraft parking area – chocks are placed in front of the aircraft wheels and power is connected from the main building. The team, all wearing safety clothing, waits until the engines are switched off and the aircraft is then secured and marked with cones.

Only when the supervisor has authorised all the relevant arrival checks can the passengers leave the plane and make their way to their final destination or baggage claim.
Transit baggage, which is stored in large containers in the hold, and the luggage of first class passengers, is placed near the cargo doors so that it can be unloaded quickly when the plane arrives.

The staff work efficiently, never stopping to chat. It’s a well-honed routine. From the warren-like holding bay below ground level, the baggage makes its way on to a long conveyer belt to the carousel above ground, where passengers are waiting.

Loading the plane
The total weight of luggage, cargo, passengers and fuel has an influence on the aircraft trim (keeping the aircraft balanced). Loading has to be in line with airline safety regulations.
Nathalie Berchtold, communications manager at Swissport International AG, told swissinfo.ch that the weather also plays an important role. At high temperatures, the air is thinner and the aircraft has less lift during take-off and landing. To take off and climb as quickly as possible, the aircraft must therefore be lighter when there are high temperatures. That means less cargo or baggage can be transported on the aircraft for safety reasons, and is why not all luggage is guaranteed to be transported on a set flight and is sometimes sent on later.

Lost luggage
Tens of millions of passengers use Zurich Airport every year, and sometimes, luggage goes missing. Good working practices among baggage handlers and airlines is key to minimising the amount of lost luggage.

In 2018, there were 38,000 missing luggage reports issued at Swissport Zurich. In the same year, they reported four mispaced bags per 1000 passengers. Around 98% of all lost baggage can be located within 24 hours at Swissport Zurich. Since June 2018 IATA (….) has required its member airlines to keep track of every item of luggage from start to finish. Swissport Zurich is already compliant.

Zurich airport: in numbers
• A total of 31,113,488 passengers travelled via Zurich Airport in 2018, a year-on-year increase of 5.8%.
• The number of passengers transferring at Zurich Airport increased by 6.4% to 8.8 million in 2018.

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