One of the most frustrating situations faced by airline passengers is lost baggage. Whether a long-anticipated vacation or important business trip, missing baggage puts an annoying crimp in any travel plans. However, new research by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and air transport technology firm SITA shows that RFID technology could save US airlines $3 billion over a four-year period. The incorporation of RFID would reduce the amount of baggage that is mishandled and lost. This study outlines how RFID can improve baggage tracking, from the check-in counter through the baggage claim carousel.
The improved client experience and significant cost savings might explain why Delta Airlines recently invested $50 million on RFID technology used specifically for baggage tracking. By the end of 2017, all Delta flights were using RFID to track passenger luggage. So far, the program is proving effective, reducing chronic issues such as transfer mishandling, ticketing mistakes, loading errors, arrival mishandling, space-weight restriction issues, load failure, and tagging errors. [1,2]
Using RFID Embedded Luggage Tags
Delta’s innovative solution revolved around embedding RFID chips in the existing bag tags already used to track 120 million bags annually. In addition to print barcodes, the enhanced tags include tiny RFID transponders that enable passengers to follow the real-time whereabouts of their bags among 344 Delta airports, via a downloadable smartphone app. Delta could very well set a precedent in the United States because this program is expected to reduce mishandling by 25%. It has already happened in retail, as RFID is used along every step of the supply chain. It only made sense that it would work with baggage. However, to see a true reduction in mishandled bags, most of the airports around the world would need to deploy RFID technology for baggage tracking.
The IATA and SITA study, titled RFID for Baggage Tracking, looks at the potential benefits airlines and airports could experience if they deploy RFID bag tracking. Of course, the exact savings also depends on the number of people traveling. The good news is that airline travel is always rising. Since 2006, airlines have seen a 5% Increase in passenger trips. In 2015, the number rested at 3.5 billion passenger flights. With at least one bag per passenger, that’s a lot of bags and, unfortunately, a lot of mistakes. [3,4]
Resolution 753 to Identify & Monitor Bags
In an effort to improve baggage handling by airlines and airports, the IATA responded to perennial passenger complaints by passing Resolution 753 which must be fully enacted to no later than June 2018. The resolution states that every airline must identify and monitor each bag as it passes through routing or transfer points, moves through security screening, is loaded onto the plane, is unloaded from the plane, and is received by the passenger. However, Delta took the first step toward RFID technology among airlines in the United States. The rollout is the largest of its kind and involves 344 airports, according to SITA.
This could be the point at which other airlines follow. By the end of 2016, Delta already had 25% of its bags being tracked using RFID. In Australia, the airline Qantas has already been using RFID technology to track baggage since 2010 for its domestic flights. Not only is the deployment of RFID baggage tracking about saving money, but passengers expect their luggage is going to make it to its final destination. By making the information available to them with the app, passengers can see in real-time where their baggage is located.
Nonetheless, SITA’s report also includes damaged, lost or stolen, and delayed bags. These types of errors typically occur when the luggage is being transferred from one plane to a connecting flight. This is another aspect that can make switching flights difficult for clients. Without being able to track their luggage, passengers have no idea if it’s on the plane with them. 
Meeting Passenger Expectations with RFID
There are further concepts being considered as part of the future of RFID baggage tracking. For example, passengers could purchase a reusable RFID tag that they keep attached to their bags every time they travel. Beyond the airlines’ own tracking systems, a third-party app may be used to monitor the location of the luggage. Another possibility is an alert system that would let handling personnel know that a bag isn’t in the right place. For example, when a bag moves down a conveyor belt toward the wrong flight a scanner could scan the bags at some point and alert personnel to the misplaced bag, so it could be directed toward the correct flight. SITA is currently working with airlines by studying current conditions so they can be improved.
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