Delta Gives Green Light to RFID Baggage Tracking

By Paul Prince

The airline has installed thousands of RFID readers across its U.S. operations.


After more than a decade of exploring the use of radio frequency identification technology to track its passengers’ luggage, Delta Air Lines has announced that it is fully committed to RFID.

Up until now, Delta has depended on the same bar-coded luggage labels that all airlines have been using for more than two decades. But that is about to change. The company says it has already deployed 4,600 handheld RFID readers, installed 3,800 RFID bag tag printers and integrated 600 RFID readers at pier and claim areas, in order to enable hands-free scanning of baggage throughout the handling process. At 84 of Delta’s largest stations, readers installed at 1,500 belt loaders will interrogate each bag’s tag just before it enters the belly of an airplane, flashing a green light if the bag is being loaded onto the correct aircraft or a red light if it requires additional handling. A Delta spokesperson says the airline is using RFID hardware from a variety of vendors.

With handheld RFID readers, agents have the ability to pinpoint a bag’s locations quickly.

Delta, which handles 120 million bags annually, will soon use RFID to track bags on all of its mainline and Delta Connection flights. Through the technology’s use, the airline reports, 99.9 percent of all those bags will now be correctly identified. In the past, if a customer missed his or her connection, agents on the ground had to manually read each bag’s bar code to find that customer’s luggage and ensure that it was retagged for the new flight. Armed with handheld RFID readers, agents will now have the ability to pinpoint those bags’ locations quickly.

“With a $50 million investment in RFID at 344 stations around the globe, we aim to reliably deliver every bag on every flight,” said Bill Lentsch, Delta’s senior VP for airport customer service and cargo operations, in an article posted on the company’s website. “This innovative application of technology gives us greater data and more precise information throughout the bag’s journey.”

What’s more, Delta says that beginning in the fourth quarter of 2016, customers will be able to see their bags’ RFID-scanned locations on and off the aircraft during their journey via the Fly Delta mobile app.

Readers installed at 1,500 of Delta’s belt loaders will read each bag’s RFID tag just before it enters a plane, flashing a green light if the bag is being loaded onto the correct aircraft.

Delta had originally hoped to deploy RFID-based luggage-tracking technology at all of the U.S. airports it serves by 2006 (see Delta Plans U.S.-Wide RFID System), but those early efforts never got off the ground.