Delta Air Lines wants to make lost luggage a thing of the past. It is leading U.S. air carriers in adopting baggage tracking technology, such as its Fly Delta app that informs passengers when their bags have arrived on the carousel. Now, Delta is deploying Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology.
RFID chips will be embedded on paper luggage tags that get attached to passengers’ bags. Scanners along the bags’ route will use radio waves to capture and track the bags’ location, which Delta says will “provide customers with improved real-time tracking of luggage throughout the travel experience.” RFID replaces barcode hand scanning, which the airline industry has been using since the early ‘90s.
RFID should be fully implemented by the start of October. Delta is investing $50 million to install 4,600 RFID scanners, 3,800 RFID bag tag printers and other technology at 344 airports across the globe.
Delta says it’s the first U.S. airline to adopt RFID technology. It is already being used by overseas carriers such as Qantas, which sells permanent electronic luggage tags called Q Bag Tags that include RFID technology for tracking. In 2013, aircraft manufacturer Airbus teamed up with German luggage maker Rimowa to develop a prototype suitcase called Bag2Go that contains an RFID chip.
Emerging technology like RFID may one day eliminate lost luggage for good. From “smart bags” embedded with GPS chips to smartphone apps that notify you of your bag’s location, technological innovations are improving the way bags are being tracked.
The number of bags that go missing is at its lowest level ever. In 2015, the airlines mishandled 23.1 million bags. That’s 6.5 bags for every 1,000 passengers, which was down 10.5 percent from the previous year, according to SITA, an organization that provides technology solutions to the airline industry.
By June 2018, SITA expects the airlines to be tracking all bags at every point of their journey, thanks to a ruling by the International Air Transport Association (IATA). IATA Resolution 753 requires that airlines track bags from the check-in counter to the airplane to the baggage carousel, and every step in between.
RFID is not the only change coming to baggage tags. Many airlines have begun allowing passengers to tag their own suitcases with labels containing flight information and final destination, which eliminates the need to stand in line and hand your bags to an airline attendant. Tagging your own bags is common in Europe, and the concept is just taking off in the United States. American Airlines provides self-tagging kiosks in a number of U.S. airports, while other airlines such as Alaska let passengers print their luggage tags at home.