In October this year, the owner of Manchester and Stansted Airports – Manchester Airport Holdings (MAG) – became the first UK airport operator to launch a home baggage collection and delivery service within its own infrastructure.

Provided by travel technology scaleup AirPortr – which has similar contracts with Gatwick and Heathrow airports, as well as airlines including British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and easyJet – the service is the first in the country to feature a dedicated baggage processing facility away from terminal check-in areas.

The initiative isn’t new, having been launched on the back of the so-called Amazon model and the exponential growth of e-commerce. Yet whilst this trend is triggering competition concerns among high street retailers, it has been favourably welcomed by the aviation industry, which is eyeing potential revenue opportunities in the luggage domain.

However, as the overall e-commerce revolution has shown, just because something is convenient for customers doesn’t necessarily make it the perfect solution, as home delivery services pose challenges to sustainability and logistics. Will the benefits of these services outweigh their flaws?

Benefits: a win-win for passengers and operators

The model is not an entirely new concept in the aviation industry, which has long been considering ways of simplifying luggage processing for both customers’ and their own sake. Its introduction has also been facilitated by growing passenger interest in personalised VIP services, such as airport concierges, members-only lounges and fast-track queues, which highlight customers’ desire to travel hassle-free.

In MAG’s case, AirPortr is currently tasked with picking up checked-in luggage at customers’ home, carrying it to a dedicated airport facility and making sure it’s loaded on the designated flight.

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“In many cases, owners are also able to track their items throughout their journey to and through the airport.”

Using a similar system, AirFrance is one of many to offer an end-to-end home collection and delivery service through its partner FlyingBag, although at slightly higher prices and with the option to have the luggage sent to a chosen destination instead of collected at the airport.

The fact that both airlines and airports outsource this task to partner companies is definitely a plus for travellers, who are more likely to receive a personalised service instead of dealing with larger organisations. In many cases, owners are also able to track their items throughout their journey to and through the airport.

Happier passenger inevitably equals happier operators, which can benefit from more efficient ground handling operations, quicker security queues and fewer chances of lost or delayed luggage. The upshot is that airports save time and money, as well as boosting passenger satisfaction.

Flaws: increased road pollution and fares

Having handled over 127,000 bags over the past three years, AirPortr’s aviation venture looks set to continue, and even expand, in the coming years.

There will come a time, however, in which the company and its competitors may have to come to terms with their environmental credentials and the prospect of switching to more sustainable transport alternatives.

Over the past few years, international airports have made considerable efforts to improve their connectivity with cities, encouraging passengers to leave their cars at home and decrease the amount of pollution in their proximity.

“If/when these services eventually switch to sustainable alternatives such as electric vehicles, prices could go up.”

These efforts are gradually paying off, as figures from UK travel insurance provider Staysure show that less than 1% Heathrow fliers book a parking lot every year, signalling passenger consciousness is set on sustainability. However, a rise in home pick-up and delivery services risks nullifying – or at least moderating – these attempts and will result in carbon-emitting cars and vans transecting cities night and day, often in rush hour.

If/when these services eventually switch to sustainable alternatives such as electric vehicles, prices could go up, meaning they could remain limited to high earners.

At the moment, based on the examples of AirPortr and AirFrance’s FlyingBag, the price of an item ranges between £20 and £40 depending on location, with any extra bag costing £7 for the former and £12 for the latter. Considering that on paper, this service is particularly beneficial for families – who may need multiple bags, buggies and more if with young children – the total cost can reach the equivalent of a flight or even of a parking slot at the airport.

Yet these issues could be solved. Seeing as airports all around the world are doing all they can to reuse their existing spaces, speed up passenger flows and beat the competition in passenger satisfaction, future prices could indeed decrease with services targeting a wider audience.

With the success of this initiative, it is also hoped that collection companies like FlyingBag and AirPortr’s environmental consciousness will improve accordingly, paving the way for more sustainable transport in and out of the airport.