The airline industry has always been an industry of big numbers. Hundreds of airlines, thousands of aircraft, millions of possible city pairs, hundreds of millions of passengers, a gazillion gallons of fuel.

And then theres the baggage. A report last week on baggage issues (seeBy the Numbers, Extra Baggage: Airlines lost an estimated 30 million bags in 05) estimates that the worlds airlines mishandled about 30 million bags last year. That sounds like a lot of lost and delayed baggage, but it represents a mere 1% of the total, which doesnt sound too bad.

And if youre a glass-is-half-full sort of person, its notable that of the 30 million bags that were misdirected or temporarily lost last year, 99.3% were eventually found and were returned to their owners within 1.3 days, on average. Only 204,000 were lost forever or presumed stolen in 2005. When you consider that the worlds airlines last year transported nearly 3 billion pieces of checked baggage, that aint bad.

The real bad news here is that it cost the typical airline about $87.50 to track down, identify, retrieve, transport and deliver the average misdirected bag. Multiply $87.50 by 30 million and you get a headache.

And thats the problem with the airline industry. All its problem get multiplied by the Gazillion Factor. Take blankets and pillows, for example. Some airlines were ridiculed for fretting over the few dollars it costs to launder blankets and pillow covers, but in the airline game, its never about a few of anything. People thought Bob Crandall was being obsessive years ago when he yanked the olives from Americans in-flight salads, but he was only bowing to the inexorable logic of the Gazillion Factor. 

Last weeks baggage report was another good reminder that sweating the small stuff may not be so crazy when you have to multiply it by a gazillion.

Kudos to...

" Tourism cares for Tomorrow. Its recent mission to Mississippi served as a poignant reminder that the devastation created by Hurricane Katrina was not confined to New Orleans. The Crescent City has dominated the headlines, but Mississippis Gulf Coast took the full brunt of the storm, and its people and its tourism economy are still reeling. Hats off to those who cared enough to contribute.

" ASTA and the Czech Republic, which hosted ASTAs inaugural International Development Expo in Prague last week. Initial reports suggest that the event was a success, indicating that ASTAs strategy of re-engineering its conferences and trade shows is off to a good start.

" Disney, for the bold decision to deploy the Disney Magic in the Med next year, offering cruises with no direct tie-in to a Disney park. Cruising in the Med is an experience that we dont readily associate with the Disney brand. This could be interesting.

" Cendant, for bringing in former Continental CEO Gordon Bethune to chair the board of its travel distribution business and put together a management team to run the business when it is spun off later this year. This, too, could be interesting to watch.

" Cendant again, for adopting the name Wyndham Worldwide for the lodging company that will be spun off as part of the break-up. The Wyndham name has been through a lot in recent years, but its still a great name. As the flagship brand in the Cendant group, its the perfect name for the new company.

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