How technology is transforming the way airlines handle your luggage

Image result for How technology is transforming the way airlines handle your luggageIn the airport of the not-too-distant future, a passenger will be able to walk into the terminal, scan their face to check-in, drop-off their luggage at a self-service kiosk and then track its journey to their plane in nearly real-time from their smartphone.

Already, technology is transforming the airline luggage experience and making it increasingly likely your bag will end up with you at your final destination.

Worldwide, the rate of mishandled bags has dropped nearly 70 percent over the past 10 years thanks to the spread of better tracking technologies, according to a May report from air transport technology firm SITA. In the U.S., 1.7 million bags were lost, delayed or damaged in 2016, translating to about 1 mishandled bag per 371 passengers.

The next wave of technology promises to speed up the entire process, let you keep close tabs on your bags and make it easier to get it back to you in the rare cases it gets lost.

The Dallas Morning News spoke with Peter Drummond, head of SITA’s baggage portfolio, about how technology is transforming luggage handling and why your face could soon be at the center of your airport experience. His responses have been edited for length and clarity.

What’s led to the steep decline in mishandled bags over the last decade?

Airlines and airports are increasingly more focused on baggage than they have ever been. They’re realizing that it doesn’t matter what service you provide above the wing. The passenger having a fantastic service and arriving at his destination with no luggage, everything’s forgotten.

A lot of airlines throughout the globe have been investing highly in all kinds of baggage tracking, tracing and reconciliation systems.

All American airlines have employed an element of tracking throughout their services, and you can see that that’s had a really good effect on the mishandling rate which in the U.S. is much lower than the global average.

At what point in the process do bags typically get mishandled?

The main reason for a bag being mishandled is through transfers. It obviously adds to the complexity if it’s to a different airline, but even (transferring) to themselves, airlines can mishandle bags.

The turnaround times are so small now that if you do have a slight delay in one airport, it can have a massive knock-on effect at the next airport.

That’s where tracking comes in. By knowing where each and every individual bag is, you can better plan for those eventualities so when they do happen you can then assign people to deal with that bag that much faster.

How does fewer mishandled bags benefit an airline?

If you track bags more effectively, you’re less likely to have a mishandled bag. If you have less mishandled bags, then you’ve got less costs in order to repatriate that bag. That’s anything from having to retag the bag — the IT systems to do that — the person that has to carry it, and also paying the courier company to then deliver that bag to the hotel.

Reducing the mishandled bags is reducing those costs. In addition, if you don’t lose a bag, you’re less likely to lose that passenger.

What types of technology are being put in place now?

Most airlines have had some sort of tracking system in place for quite some time. What we’re seeing more of is recognizing that we need to track more at different points.

Delta has made the choice of choosing RFID (radio frequency identification). The reason for that is because RFID is much more accurate and the readers are much cheaper than traditional barcode tracking.

Moreover, you get the increase in read rates because with paper tags, once they go through the machinery of one airport and on the aircraft and then off that aircraft, it tends to get a little crumpled. So reading those tags tends to have more of a problem in transfers.

By using RFID, it’s a lot more accurate. The question is what do we do with that tracking data once we have it?

What are airlines doing with the baggage data they collect?

What you’re going to see is much more transparency and visibility of bags that’s going to be passed over into more mobile devices and passengers being able to see exactly where their bag is.

If a bag is mishandled, what you’re then going to see is the airlines pushing the automated reporting of where you want that bag delivered to. That’s going to happen by mobile phones. We’re seeing some airlines do that now.

What about the rise of self-service bag drop stations?

That’s something that’s increasing more and more. You’re seeing lots more self bag drop solutions being implemented at airports.

What also will come about with that is the use of single token travel, being able to use your face not only to check yourself in, but to also to check your bag to speed up that entire process. It’s a great way to improve the passenger experience. Just walk up, show your face, drop your bag and away you go into the airport.

How do you think passengers will react to more facial recognition technology at airports?

I think you’re always going to have people who are a bit reluctant to adopt new technologies.

The same happened with self check-in, kiosk check-in, mobile check-in. There’s always going to be a really slow ramp up of these technologies, but once they actually use the service, they’ll quickly see the benefits of doing so.

SITA has this application we call Smart Path where you can register your biometrics against your passport and your traveling details, and then basically you can walk through the airport, just by showing your face.

How much of an improvement to the passenger experience is that? It’s quite futuristic but it’s something that we’re trialing now.