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This Japanese airport hasn't lost luggage in three decades

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Let's face it. During the summer travel season that's just getting started this long holiday weekend, thousands of bags will likely go missing. And it happens at airports all around the world - but apparently not at one particular airport in Japan. Kansai International Airport claims it has never lost a single piece of luggage since it opened 30 years ago. The airport, which serves the city of Osaka, welcomed nearly 14 million passengers last year. NPR's Kathryn Fink spoke with the person in charge of getting all those bags where they need to go.

KATHRYN FINK, BYLINE: Kansai International Airport is used to accolades. It opened in 1994 on an artificial island in Osaka Bay. It's the eight-time winner of an international award for best baggage delivery, and now it's boasting a perfect luggage record, which is definitely at odds with what happens elsewhere. Here in the U.S., the Bureau of Transportation Statistics says domestic flights lose 3 million bags every year. Kansai Airport is proud of its 30-year streak. But if you ask its chief of baggage operations, this latest record is pretty much just business as usual.

TSUYOSHI HABUTA: Hello. I'm Tsuyoshi Habuta - nice to meet you.

FINK: Habuta has been working at Kansai for 17 years. He took a break from his 10-hour shift to tell me what's behind the airport's success, including multiple layers of checks to make sure bags don't go missing.

HABUTA: (Speaking Japanese).

FINK: Habuta says his team has a whole system for arranging bags before a departing flight. This helps ensure they don't get damaged. And also, it makes them easier to count - not once, but multiple times.

HABUTA: (Through interpreter) It requires responsibility and teamwork. And as a result, when the aircraft leaves on time, there's a great sense of achievement.

FINK: Habuta says losing luggage should not happen because luggage is precious to passengers. He talks about his commitment to passengers a lot, although he doesn't have direct contact with them.

HABUTA: (Through interpreter) My job - it's not the kind of thing that's in the limelight. It's more like a backstage role.

FINK: He's made it his goal to keep passengers coming back to the airport.

HABUTA: (Through interpreter) We're working hard to study and learn more each day so that we can make the passenger happy. I really think that's the spirit of Japanese hospitality.

FINK: Japanese hospitality, he says, is about thoroughness and an attention to detail. One of those details happens when arrival baggage is brought to the carousel. He says his team places each suitcase with the handle facing outward so that passengers have an easier time grabbing their bag. Kathryn Fink, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF CURTIS HARDING SONG, "WEDNESDAY MORNING ATONEMENT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Kathryn Fink
Kathryn Fink is a producer with NPR's All Things Considered.
William Troop
William Troop is a supervising editor at All Things Considered. He works closely with everyone on the ATC team to plan, produce and edit shows 7 days a week. During his 30+ years in public radio, he has worked at NPR, at member station WAMU in Washington, and at The World, the international news program produced at station GBH in Boston. Troop was born in Mexico, to Mexican and Nicaraguan parents. He spent most of his childhood in Italy, where he picked up a passion for soccer that he still nurtures today. He speaks Spanish and Italian fluently, and is always curious to learn just how interconnected we all are.
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