Excuse Me – Why Are You Tagging My Luggage?
It is May 1988. Greg and Marcia have just stepped off a plane after returning from a long and glorious honeymoon. It’s late, they are tired, and they just want to grab their luggage and go home. But wait. It’s not there. Greg and Marcia wait until every other bag is taken off the conveyor belt only to discover their bags are nowhere to be found.
The scenario described above used to be quite common in days gone by. To their credit, the airlines have gotten a lot better at keeping track of luggage thanks to better baggage handling practices and new tracking technologies. In fact, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) claims the commercial airline industry currently enjoys a 99.4% accuracy rate for baggage handling.
IATA wants to see that rate reach 99.9% within the next couple of years. As such, they are encouraging airlines to replace current barcode technology with advanced RAIN RFID systems. They say these new systems will make it nearly impossible to lose luggage unless an airline is purposely trying to do so.
The Way It Was
Baggage handling was an entirely different animal back in the 1980s. Travelers like our fictional newlyweds were given paper luggage tags with their names, addresses, and flights printed on them. It was up to baggage handlers to read every tag on every piece of luggage they handled. The information on those tags determined where bags would go at each point in the handling line.
That old system was adequate, but it was far from accurate. Baggage handlers routinely made mistakes that sent luggage to the wrong planes and, subsequently, the wrong airports. All the major airlines were forced to develop entire divisions tasked with locating lost luggage, retrieving it, and delivering it to customers. But there was no other way to do it at the time.
The Way It Is
Paper tags that had to be manually read by baggage handlers finally gave way to new tags with printed bar codes. That’s where we are today. Barcodes make it possible to track luggage pieces using hand-held or mounted scanners capable of reading barcodes as pieces go by.
Though highly accurate, barcode tags do have their limitations. For example, tags can only be scanned in close proximity. This means there is still too much human involvement that could ultimately lead to lost baggage. This takes us to the IATA goal of replacing barcode luggage tags with RFID tags.
The Way It Will Be
If the IATA has its way, RFID tags will be the norm for baggage handling in the very near future. That’s a good thing, according to California-based Rock West Solutions. Rock West develops and designs RFID sensing applications alongside other technology-based services.
Rock West says the strength of an RFID tracking system is that it has a significantly longer range compared to barcode systems. It’s all because RFID sensors operate on radio frequencies. With a series of well-placed readers deployed at strategic locations around an airport facility, it is possible to track luggage without the need for hand-held scanners or other means of human intervention.
RFID technology is not yet where the IATA wants it to be, but the technology companies tasked with creating the electronic tags of the future are working on it. They are almost ready with a new generation of RFID tags that should help the airline industry reach that 99.9% accuracy rate.
Imagine never having to worry about lost luggage again. Thanks to RFID technology, eliminating lost luggage is no longer just a dream.