Luggage packed with issues for aviation industry

Keeping track of our bags and who lugs them for us could be changing in the future

Toronto Star

Vanessa Lu, Business Reporter

March 18, 2016

One of the biggest things travellers fear as they drag their suitcases through sprawling airports to check-ins, is that their bags won’t join them at the other other end. Bags are mishandled at the rate of 40 per minute, worldwide, with transfers being the chief culprit, according to SITA, an information technology company that specializes in air transport.

So, imagine a day, when passengers are freed from that hassle. We’ll still have luggage, but the difference is we won’t be lugging it around ourselves. Susan Baer, an international aviation consultant told a recent forum at the Toronto Region Board of Trade she believes that day is not far off.

Baer, global aviation leader for Arup, sees someone perhaps working for Uber or TaskRabbit, arriving at your home on the day you’re traveling. They take your bag to the airport, put it on a flight, or perhaps use FedEx or UPS to get it to your destination. When you arrive at your office, hotel or Airbnb rental, the bag will be waiting for you.

Nick Gates, portfolio director for SITA, said the way bags are transported is slowly changing. Already, many airlines have self-service bag drops, where passengers tag and send their checked luggage on their way, he said. But more changes may be on the way to boost bag tracking. That’s because the International Air Transport Association, which represents the world’s airlines, has adopted a resolution that by 2018, they must keep track of all bags, along every step of the journey.  Gates said many airlines already keep track of their bags, scanning bar codes along the way, but some are looking at embedding radio frequency identification (RFID) chips on tags.

He noted that airlines haven’t been using the chips because they cost 10 to 15 cents a piece, compared with two to three cents for a paper tag. “It doesn’t seem like a lot of money, but when there are billions of bags processed each year, it becomes expensive for the airlines.”

But the difference is the RFID tags could be quickly read several meters away, not requiring line of sight, but being just close by instead of requiring scanning of bar codes. “It would improve the performance and be another aid in reducing the number of bags that go missing,” Gates said, adding Delta Air Lines is considering these tags. “If it’s a success, then we will see many other airlines do the same thing”.

Some companies also sell devices – smaller than a smartphone – that use GPS technology to follow a bag on its path. The only downside is if there’s no cell signal, the bag’s location won’t be known, such as over the Atlantic Ocean.  Still, Gates believes consumers like to know where things are. Airlines could soon offer real-time information like FedEx does, where passengers can look to see exactly where their bags are.

And while people might love the convenience of flying without bags, Gates isn’t convinced it is for everyone. “I think it will still be a long time before we see bags separated from passengers.”