July 19, 2024

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This airport has never lost a bag.  For one top therapist, it’s all about respect: NPR

This airport has never lost a bag. For one top therapist, it’s all about respect: NPR

Kansai International Airport has had an impressive track record since its opening 30 years ago.

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As the summer travel season begins, thousands of bags will go missing at airports around the world. It’s a given at this point. But not at a particular airport in Japan that makes an astonishing claim: He has never lost a piece of luggage.

Kansai International Airport opened in September 1994, on an artificial island in Osaka Bay, and its records indicate that it has maintained a perfect baggage chain ever since.

This is much better than the US can claim, where the Bureau of Transportation Statistics found that domestic flights lose 3 million bags each year.

Kansai Airport serves the city of Osaka and handled nearly 14 million passengers last year. She’s also no stranger to awards, having won an international award for best luggage delivery eight times.

For Tsuyoshi Habuta, who oversees baggage operations for a handling company in Kansai, the record is a combined achievement.

“It takes responsibility and teamwork, and as a result, when the plane leaves on time, there’s a great sense of accomplishment,” he told NPR through a translator.

Habuta has been operating at Kansai Airport for 17 years. He says there are multiple layers of checks to ensure luggage doesn’t get lost and that his team has a meticulous system for arranging bags before the flight departs.

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However, if you’re looking for a juicy scoop on baggage operations in Kansai, you probably won’t find one. The airport insists there is no secret sauce.

“This will be the result of the daily efforts and careful work of all concerned, including the airlines and handling companies,” airport spokesman Momoka Wakabayashi said in an email. “We apologize if this is not a definitive answer.”

Kansai Airport expects an influx of passengers next year.

Kansai Airport expects an influx of passengers next year.

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Buddhika Weerasinghe/Getty Images

For Habuta, the possibility of losing bags simply comes down to right and wrong. He says that should not happen because luggage is valuable to passengers. And although travelers may not see him, he still feels a strong commitment to their well-being.

“It’s not the kind of thing that’s in the spotlight. It’s more of a behind-the-scenes role,” Habuta says of his job, adding that he makes it his mission to keep passengers coming back to the airport.

“We work hard to study and learn more every day so that we can make passengers happy. I truly believe this is the spirit of Japanese hospitality,” he says.

He says hospitality is about precision and attention to detail.

One of these details occurs when bringing luggage to the carousel. He says his team positions each bag with the handle facing outward, so passengers can grip their bag more easily.

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Next year, Kansai Airport expects the number of passengers traveling through it to nearly triple – to 37 million people. Osaka will host the World Expo in 2025, and is expected to attract more than 20 million visitors.

Habuta seems unfazed by the potential influx of extra baggage, and what it means for the airport’s clean slate.

“We expect significant growth in passenger numbers,” he says. “We want the airport to be an exciting, active and vibrant place for everyone to come and use.”