Less lost luggage at the airport

By The Economist online

WAITING to see if your checked bag will bump down the carousel and join you at your destination is one of the enduring anxieties of air travel. Though the number of “mishandled” bags—an industry term meaning lost or misplaced—is at an all-time low, six out of every 1,000 passengers can expect to be separated from their luggage for longer than they expected, or possibly even forever. These mishaps cost the airline industry $2.1bn a year and cause untold stress and inconvenience to passengers.

From June 2018, however, travellers’ frustrations should ease when the International Air Transport Association’s Resolution 753 comes into effect. It will require mandatory tracking at four stages of a checked bag’s journey: when it is first handed to the airline, when it is loaded onto the aircraft, when it is delivered to the transfer area and when it is returned to the passenger. The resolution, which was devised in conjunction with Airlines for America, an industry group, was agreed to in 2013 and applies to the association’s 275 member airlines that account for 83% of global air travel.

In a similar way to how courier companies track parcels, airlines will be able to trace checked luggage as it moves through an airport and between planes, which is where almost half of the losses occur. As a result, aircraft should be loaded faster and baggage fraud reduced. When bags are misplaced they will be found and reunited with their owners more quickly. Airlines, airports and baggage-handlers will have access to the data, which will be standardised, allowing customer-service operators to advise passengers on the whereabouts of their lost bag and airports to know who to charge for mishandled suitcases. Less time and money will be spent generating lost-bag reports.

In order to track suitcases, tags need to be scanned at the four stages of their transit. Traditional luggage-tags, which include information like a passenger’s name, the date, destination and a bar code, can be scanned by either lasers or by hand. However, the system is often labour intensive and sometimes tags get chewed up and bar codes become unreadable. The new regulations have forced the industry to look to newer technologies. Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) chips offer a more efficient alternative. With the bag and passenger’s information held in a chip either in a tag or in the suitcase itself, they can be scanned en masse, are more robust than sticker tags and are almost 100% reliable.

Qatar Airways, which is the first airline to comply with Resolution 753, has gone the extra mile by enabling its passengers to track their luggage themselves through an app. Others are also helping to smooth the baggage path. Horizn Studios, a Berlin-based design company, is selling suitcases with an optional GPS tracking system, as well as a Protective Guard Card that sends an alert when a wallet or suitcase strays more than 30 metres from its owner. Trace Me, a British research and development outfit, allows customers to register and trace their bag with SITA WorldTracer, a widely used tracking system in the airline industry.

Despite all the new technology, there will still be some unlucky travellers who leave the airport without their bags. If that happens in London, the luggageless can turn for help to the Hotel Café Royal, which in partnership with matchesfashion.com, an online clothes retailer, offers Fashion Now. Following a phone consultation with a stylist, a selection of new clothes for those bereft of bags can be delivered to their hotel room within 90 minutes. With work, evening and sportswear packages for both men and women, the service lessens the distress of losing your luggage. …read more

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Category: Business and finance, Gulliver

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