The luggage on the plane coming from the Gran Canaria are about to be placed on the luggage compartment at Frankfurt Airport. When the first batch of passengers arrive, they gather around the walk, pushing the luggage carriers to the best location to quickly pick up their bags.
But a bag is still turning, missing from the previous trip and obviously without an owner. This is a normal case for Matisse Schultz, a luggage investigator.
Schultz, who works for Fraport, which runs Frankfurt Airport, says it is an owner-less bag on the compartment, and that happens almost every day.
He adds that the gathering of helpless passengers around the compartment is another case that happens too much, as well.
Schultz and his colleagues, a 40-member team, head to work, and do not wait for travelers who have not found their luggage in their office.
"We find them and ask them what they are waiting for," he says.
Sometimes, the situation is simple without complications; ski-boards, bicycles, and baby strollers are referred to an office dedicated for heavy luggage.
In other situations, a compartment malfunction delays the emptying of the luggage container, so passengers' bags do not appear until after 15 anxious minutes. In some cases, however, baggage can be really lost.
The luggage investigator can write a report on a lost bag, and register the passenger’s luggage-related information: What is the missing thing, its size, and color?
Some travelers show a surprising lack of knowledge of their luggage.
The team leader Haiki Frisk, who has been working at the luggage department since 2000, said: "They often do not know the brand. And some do not even know the color of their bag."
Thanks to the barcode on the bag and the matching "luggage card" attached to the boarding pass, investigators can quickly decide whether the bag has gone to the correct plane at the take-off point.
Then, a global search system can be used to track luggage internationally. The bag may have remained at the take-off point all along. The case can become more complicated in transit flights, during which luggage are carried from one aircraft to another.
For example, if a passenger travels from New York via Frankfurt to Singapore, and his luggage is not routed to the final destination, they can end up in Frankfurt, while the passenger is on his way to his final destination and he does not know that his bags have delayed.
The luggage investigator also receives inquiries from other airports looking for missing luggage.
In order to return the luggage to the owner, investigators first check the information contained in the barcode, which refers to the departure and arrival airports and baggage tags, and can provide information about the identity of the owner.
Frisk said: "I know that many people are afraid to put a card with their names and personal data, such as their addresses and phone numbers on the suitcase."
But, at least it is recommended that you have a paper with contact data on the bag, in case of loss.
Other issues that Schultz has to deal with include incorrect baggage tags when entering, and passengers getting the wrong bags, which can easily happen if there are several bags of similar size and color.
If someone holds a wrong bag after a long journey without checking it, he may not notice it until after he reaches the house and empties its content.
Frisks explained: “We usually know it then, because the real owner has reported the loss.”
In addition to the investigative skills, baggage investigators also need patience, empathy and firmness.
Schultz remarked: "Many of the airport attendants realize that we are not guilty, but we are here to help them and return the luggage as soon as possible.”
But in some situations people get nervous and act dramatically at the baggage investigators' office.
It is not uncommon to see a businessman disturbed because of his lost baggage, which contains the suit he will wear to attend an important meeting, or a parent looking for a missing bag containing his child's beloved toy.
But that, according to Frisk, "makes work interesting too."