More reasons to move fast on RFID baggage tracking

More reasons to move fast on RFID baggage tracking

Despite much improvement throughout the aviation industry in the last decade, lost baggage is still one of the biggest stress factors for passengers worldwide. But could it soon be a thing of the past?

Richard Meijer, Taco Spoor, René Hopstaken and Alisa Silven  from NACO are sharing their thoughts on the latest developments in baggage handling.

Most baggage is currently tracked using traditional barcoding on tags. This ‘licence plate code’ system was introduced in 1987 as part of a new global unified system to identify a bag and its owner. However, the current baggage tags have their drawbacks. For example, line of sight is required for the barcode to be readable by (handheld) barcode scanners. This means bags need manual handling to get them in the correct position. Handling and transport can also cause these baggage tags to wrinkle or tear, with a higher chance of a getting a ‘no read’. In those cases the bag needs to be moved to a manual coding station to continue the baggage handling process.

So what does the future look like?

On 1 June 2018, IATA’s resolution 753 came into force, requiring its airlines to track every baggage item at a minimum of four mandatory points: check-in, loading, transfer and arrival. This resolution aims to improve bag tracking and reduce the number of lost items. In addition, as announced at its annual general meeting in Sydney this month, IATA will soon be driving airlines to adopt ‘chip’ tracking using Radio Frequency Identification (RFID).

Integrating RFID chips into baggage tags and applying RFID readers at the four mandatory points will improve traceability significantly. A business case developed by IATA and SITA estimated that RFID will cost as little as $0.10 per passenger and could reduce mishandled bags by an extra 25 per cent, saving $3 billion across the industry by 2020.

A world of opportunity

But there are many more reasons to encourage RFID reading as the primary tracing option. Introducing RFID readers at strategic points enables improved monitoring of the entire baggage handling process. This increased transparency of baggage flow offers the opportunity to identify bottlenecks and barriers, helping both airport and airline to recognise and deliver improvement measures.

By introducing RFID readers in automated baggage handling systems the efficiency of the system improves. Fewer unidentified bags will end up at manual encoding stations, which will lead to savings on personnel costs. Trials have shown that the improved read rates of RFID tags can drive efficiency gains within the baggage handling system. Peak loads in the system could reduce by up to 15 per cent, again because fewer bags need to recirculate to be manually encoded.

RFID can also help improving the customs process for arriving passengers. Should suspicious content be identified as arriving baggage is screened, the bag can be marked electronically. As the passenger passes the green or red lane at customs, the RFID tags can be read from a distance: marked bags then trigger an alarm to customs personnel.

Making RFID a reality

But there is an even broader world of opportunities to think of. RFID will support the current trend towards remote baggage check-in at trains, hotels or long-term parking for example. Live tracking for passengers via a smartphone app – like Delta Air Lines provides to their passengers – can also be adopted by other airlines more easily.

There is so much to gain from RFID. It’s taken a decade of discussion to reach this point – let’s not leave it another decade to make it a reality.