Is luggage traceability the future?

Luggage traceability
Tag your bag, sir?

Dean Porter, EMEA Transport and Logistics Solutions Marketing at Zebra Technologies, explores how technology is helping to solve a perennial travel problem

Each year, 25 million bags are mishandled worldwide – budget airline culture has enabled easy access to almost every corner of Europe and travellers have taken advantage of this in their droves; this is an awful prospect for travellers and bad business for airlines.  For many of these remote destinations the infrastructure in place to manage such high demand is pretty basic. In Europe, the risk of lost luggage is even more prevalent – 7.3 bags are lost per 1,000 passengers, compared with 2.85 in North America and 1.8 in Asia. As people look to travel more and visit destinations further afield, airports and airlines alike must act swiftly to lessen the risk of baggage loss, ultimately enhancing their customers overall experience.

In Europe 7.3 bags are lost per 1,000 passengers annually, compared with 2.85 in North America and 1.8 in Asia

What’s the problem?

There are several factors relating to luggage mishandling. Budget cuts and high passenger footfall are among them. It is also increasingly common for passengers to travel with multiple bags and make transfer flights, which can cause challenges to baggage handlers rerouting items to onward destinations across multiple airlines. Indeed, 46 per cent of misplaced bags were lost during flight connections last year. Meanwhile, suitcases falling from airport delivery vehicles and going unreported, baggage remaining on the aircraft and unidentifiable lost luggage remain among the biggest pain points for airports.

Keeping track

There are four mandatory tracking points at which every checked piece of luggage has to be recorded. This begins at check-in, when the passenger hands over their bag to the airline, marking the beginning of the journey. Here, a unique 10-digit tag number is applied. Following this, bags are once again recorded at the loading stage, when the bag is delivered onto the aircraft; transferred, when custody of the bag changes between carriers; and finally, returned, when passengers receive their bag at arrivals. At smaller, more remote airports, managing this process was problematic and far from automated digitally. 

Lost luggage

As technology has become more sophisticated, it has also become easier to roll out – this has allowed more remote airports to successfully upgrade their facilities and modernise their offerings. The Greek Islands, for instance, had difficulty in managing the increase in tourist footfall, while still complying with International Air Transport Association regulations. To modernise, boost efficiency and improve customer experience, Zebra Technologies worked with its partner Phi Data to automate baggage tracking in 14 Greek airports.

In 2018, 46 per cent of misplaced bags were lost during flight connections

Accuracy and efficiency are key 

By arming workers with mobile devices, bags can be scanned and identified much faster, whilst still being recorded accurately. This increases worker efficiency, and ultimately leads to fewer mistakes. All scans link to a central database, giving both workers and passengers increased visibility over every item of luggage checked into the hold, at every stage. 

Whilst arming staff with mobile devices and continuing to digitalise the whole travel infrastructure is a great start, airlines and airports must be open-minded about harnessing new technology, in order to continue to adapt and modernise. Meanwhile, open source-style communication between airlines and airports is paramount to efficiency and safety. 

Looking forward, travellers should be open-minded about future iterations of technology, such as tagging or chipping suitcases, to ensure visibility throughout their journey. ■