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IATA Mandates RFID Use on Baggage for Airlines, Airports

After more than a decade of study and recommendations, the International Air Transport Association has voted to require the use of UHF RFID on air-travel baggage to prevent the mishandling of bags.
By Claire Swedberg
Jun 14, 2019

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has adopted a resolution supporting the global deployment of RFID tracking for checked airline baggage. The resolution serves as the latest step toward global baggage tracking with UHF RFID tags on passengers' luggage. The group voted at the 75th Annual General Meeting, held earlier this month in Seoul, South Korea.

The transition to radio frequency identification has been a wide-scale collaboration between all stakeholders across the baggage industry, including airports, airlines, luggage handlers and technology providers. IATA says it plans to work with airlines and airports to bring RFID to 80 percent of baggage checked for air travel throughout the next three years. This means that the implementation of RFID reader infrastructure needs to be deployed in at least 74 airports.

The vote was unanimous to adopt the resolution, along with the implementation of baggage messaging standards, to more accurately track passengers' baggage across key points—when the luggage passes through reader portals—throughout a traveler's journey. The resolution follows a decade-long process of research and recommendations, including specifications for how RFID should be employed.

IATA began examining RFID technology in 2005 as a tool to reduce baggage mishandling by airlines and airports. Three years later, the association started conducting a Baggage Improvement Program that led to a reduction of luggage mishandling of more than 70 percent by 2012, says Andrew Price, the head of global baggage operations for IATA's Airport, Passenger, Cargo, Security (APCS) division.

From 2013 to 2017, the baggage mishandling rate dropped further, in part due to messaging improvements. This was followed by the introduction of IATA Resolution 753 for the tracking of luggage, which became effective in June 2018. "While 80 percent of airlines have an implementation plan for IATA Resolution 753," Price says, "much remains to be done for full implementation to be achieved." Thus far, RFID has been adopted by a few airlines and airports, in some cases as pilot projects.

Recently, Delta "transitioned to RFID hands-free scanning technology at 84 of our largest domestic stations," says Gareth Joyce, Delta's senior VP of airport customer service and cargo president. These locations, he says, account for more than 85 percent of the bags flying in the Delta system.

In fact, since Delta launched RFID bag tags in 2016, the airline has collected more than 2 billion tracking points per year. "In so doing, we've been able to make adjustments and improvements to continue building up accuracy to where 99.9 percent of bags are now being accurately scanned and tracked."

RFID provides an automated approach that is faster and more accurate than barcode scans, Price reports. When RFID tags, applied to baggage, are read at airports before and after each flight, the bags can be identified and tracked without the need for human intervention.

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