Skift Take

Once airports and airlines get better at not losing your bags, maybe they'll give incentives to keep bags out of overcrowded overhead bins.

Airports are investing in technological innovations and systems improvements to ensure that fewer bags are mishandled or lost.

Airport information and technology company SITA recently announced that while passenger numbers have increased by 65.6% in the last decade, reports of mishandled bags have been cut in half. While that is a great improvement overall, it is still cold comfort for anyone at arrivals stuck at the airline’s baggage desk reporting a problem.

According to the same SITA report, 81.2% of mishandled bags were delayed, 15.5% were damaged or pilfered, and 3.3% were either lost or stolen.

Of the seven reasons SITA listed for why your bags may be delayed, transfer mishandling is number one at 45%. Failure to load comes in second at 16%. Ticketing errors, bag switch, security holds, and other factors account for 15% of all delayed bags worldwide.

Visitors at the Passenger Terminal Expo in Barcelona last week were treated to a peek of the best solutions entering the market to keep these mishandled bag numbers low, and ensure they keep getting smaller.

We’ve ranked the top three according to their direct relation to existing baggage handling issues which most contribute to those 6.96 per thousand passenger bags which were mishandled in 2013.

3. Bag Journey Applications

Self-service drop-off of luggage is a great time saver and passenger experience enhancement, but no matter who checks the luggage in, success still depends on how it comes out.

The BagJourney software solution by event host SITA can contribute to system-wide improvements; with end-to-end baggage tracking status updates to the systems of airlines and airports, including smartphone and tablet apps used by operations staff. While a number of firms offer baggage management software solutions, SITA is still at the lead of aviation communications and IT application services.

2. Baggage Handling Systems Upgrades

Software and apps are great, but bags still need to be moved from the check-in desk to the aircraft hold and back through the arrival’s airport’s baggage handling system before they reach their owner again at arrivals.

Our favorites from the show, for state-of-the-art automation, were systems by the German company Siemens, the French group Alstef Automation, and the Crisplant system by the BeumerGroup from Denmark.

1. Smart Bag Tags

Let’s face it, losing control of your valuables is one the most angst-inducing elements of air-travel. No matter what software operations systems are in place to track and control activities behind the scenes, or how automated the baggage handling systems installed at the terminal, we still need individual assurance that the luggage we check will come out the same way it went in, on time, every time.

Eliminating baggage mishandling altogether may be near impossible, though some travel regions are getting pretty close. In the meantime, smart tag innovations go a long way to improving the process.

Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA), SkyTrax’s 2014 winner for best baggage handling system, puts great stock in RFID technology — it was the first airport in the world to introduce RFID luggage tags in 2008. Lyngsoe Systems introduced this RFID solution at HKIA and became world-leaders in RFID solutions. They’ve also developed a comprehensive network to help the industry further improve baggage handling.

RFID in Action

The most futuristic development is the new eTag and eTrack system introduced by Air France-KLM in collaboration with input from their SkyTeam partner Delta Air Lines.

This nifty combination of devices allows you to track your bags throughout the journey directly on your smartphone using GSM, GPS and Bluetooth technology. The eTag automatically updates and displays flight details and a barcode when you check-in online from home. All you have to do is drop off the bag at the terminal and go.

As an alternative to the eTag and eTrack devices, Samsonite has developed the Track & Trace bag with eTag and eTrack devices already embedded, so there’s less to loose.

Before we all get too excited, there are some important downsides.

While Air France-KLM claim this is an innovation which could work for all airlines, for now no airline has the system in place. Though Air France-KLM’s video about eTag and eTrack tells you to go to FlyingBlue and buy it, you can’t.

AirFrance-KLM will deploy the system to a limited group of passengers for trials before deploying the system to a larger market segment. There is no way to predict its success at trials, nor do we know what airlines outside SkyTeam will take up the technology once it’s been proven.

AirFrance-KLM’s decision to make this a device tied-in to their Flying Blue frequent flyer program is also problematic. The system only activates when you check in for your flight with your Flying Blue account. This is an odd decision by the carriers, as even passengers flying with them who don’t want to join their frequent flyer program won’t benefit from their technology.

Without a high adoption rate by a number of airlines outside the Sky Team network, and universal use regardless of alliance loyalty program membership, eTag and eTrack could quickly be reduced from bench-setting future-tech to just another set of gimmicky gadgets gathering dust.

Unlike traditional barcode paper tags, and RFID embedded tags, this system is not free. Even if you won’t pay the as-yet-undetermined-price for the fully-embedded Samsonite Track-and-Trace bag, you will have to pay an undisclosed price for the eTag and eTrack devices.

As the eTrack device is a loose item, which needs to be placed in the bag for the system to work as advertised, those taking this system for a test-drive will need to be very careful where they pack it. Once it’s lost, the live tracking function of the system no longer works.

Quick bag drop-off stations are not available at all terminals. Many still require you to stand in line for an attendant, even when you’ve checked-in ahead. There were a number of suppliers at the Passenger Terminal Expo providing smart fully-automated bag drop-off solutions, but terminals and airlines will need to adopt those systems before you can enjoy a true self-service experience wherever you go.

That said, Air France-KLM get props for trying; at least they’re thinking in the right direction.

While you wait to find out whether a version of the eTag and eTrack system will help keep your valuable luggage safe and traceable in future, you can take comfort that the top three innovations listed here are ready to go today.


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Tags: luggage

Photo credit: The Crisplant baggage handling system. BeumerGroup

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