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Can RFID Reduce Instances of Lost Luggage?

Posted By RFID Journal, 11.06.2012
Is this airport application one that radio frequency identification can help to improve?

—Name withheld

Yes, it definitely is.

According to SITA, an organization focused on IT systems for the airline industry, 25.8 million bags were mishandled in 2011—a significant improvement over the 32.3 million bags mishandled the year prior. The delivery of mishandled bags, as well as compensation for bags lost, costs airlines more than $2 billion annually.

Of the 25.8 million bags mishandled, about 85 percent were simply delayed in reaching the proper travelers (which is not a minor problem, since that can ruin a trip). About 12 percent were damaged or had something stolen from them, while 2.5 percent—more than half a million bags—were lost or stolen.

The most common problem is that bags are misrouted while being transferred from one airplane to another. This, according to SITA, is the cause 53 percent of the time. In approximately 20 percent of instances, bags are not loaded onto the correct flight. About 3 percent of the time, luggage is incorrectly tagged, causing agents to input the wrong airport's code.

A variety of airlines have tested radio frequency identification for tracking and routing luggage, including Emirates (see Emirates RFID Bag-Tracking Pilot Takes Off), Delta (see Delta Will Use RFID to Track Luggage), Air France-KLM (see Air France-KLM Embarks on RFID Luggage-Tag Trial) and United Airlines (see United Airlines Tests RFID to Speed Baggage and Passenger Check-In).

Three airports are currently employing RFID solutions. One is McCarran International Airport, in Las Vegas (see McCarran International Airport Expands Its RFID Baggage-Handling System). The others are Hong Kong International Airport (see Hong Kong¹s Airport to Tag Bags and Hong Kong Airport Says It Now Uses Only RFID Baggage Tags) and Lisbon Airport (see Lisbon Airport Ups Throughput With RFID Baggage System).

RFID allows bag tags to be read regardless of tag orientation, and the transponder can still be interrogated if the bar code is damaged (though the RFID tag could not be read if it were badly damaged). Being able to read tags automatically greatly simplifies the process of taking many bags off of a plane at a hub, as well as making sure they end up on the correct connecting flights. Some sorting could be automated, and the RFID system could alert workers in the event that a bag is placed onto a cart headed for the wrong plane.

SITA credits an improvement in process and IT investments for the decline in mishandled bags, though its report does not specify how much additional labor was invested in reducing mishandled bags. It's an interesting question, because in the short run, having more people checking to ensure that bags arrive at the correct plane might reduce the problem and make customers happy—but in the long term, an investment in RFID might be more cost-effective.

—Mark Roberti, Founder and Editor,
RFID Journal

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