Airlines Are Losing Fewer Bags Thanks to Baggage Tracking Technology

8 out of every 10 passengers check luggage.

Baggage, airport, airplane
Photo: Tevarak/Getty Images

Airlines have adopted new technologies for baggage tracking and they seem to be paying off for passengers.

A new report by aviation technology company SITA shows that we are now much more likely to find our bags waiting for us at the baggage claim, thanks to the adoption of new baggage tracking standards.

Eight out of every 10 passengers check luggage, with most passengers checking one bag. Airlines around the world carried approximately 4.3 billion checked passenger bags last year.

Those airlines which already had good baggage handling processes in place have seen better tracking systems boost their reliable baggage delivery by 38 percent, and airlines that only recently adopted new baggage tracking processes have seen their baggage handling improve by as much as 66 percent.

The move to better baggage tracking systems was spurred by a resolution from the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which required airlines to put systems in place to better track the location of bags throughout the journey. A number of airlines have adopted RFID baggage tracking systems that let them find any bag in a haystack of bags by using RFID sensors. Delta Air Lines was an early adopter of an RFID baggage tracking system that has served as an example for others.

Airports have joined in the efforts by adopting new baggage handling systems, including laser or RFID luggage tag readers that can identify a bag more reliably as it goes from baggage check to the plane and from the plane to baggage claim.

SITA 2019 Baggage IT Insights Report
Courtesy of SITA 2019 Baggage IT Insights Report

Better tracking is also helping airlines notify customers of baggage status through their mobile phone, and passengers love it. Twenty-six percent of global airline travelers received mobile updates on their bags last year, and they reported being 8.6 percent more satisfied with their airline service than those who used the airport screen or public announcements to find out when and at which carrousel their bags would arrive.

Airline mobile baggage tracking can also be a time saver when something goes wrong. Airlines will send out a notice to customers letting them know not to expect their bag on arrival and which include instructions to make bag claims, even electronically.

There’s a greater likelihood of mishandled bags in Europe (7.29 mishandled bags for every 1,000 passengers) than in the U.S. (2.85 mishandled bags for every 1,000 passengers), the SITA report reveals, though both regions have improved their baggage reliability by more than 50 percent compared to 10 years ago. There is a much better chance of reliable baggage delivery in Asia where the rate of mishandled bags is only 1.77 for every 1,000 passengers. Airlines and airports in Asia attribute this performance to the broader adoption of advanced baggage handling systems. (Hong Kong International Airport is considered a trailblazer adopting RFID baggage tags to track bags back in 2009.)

With passenger numbers expected to double to 8.2 billion by 2037, according to IATA, airlines and airports have to continue to improve baggage handling and baggage tracking systems. The real target for improvement now is better tracking on transfers for connecting flights, which is where 46 percent of baggage delays happen today.

SITA believes that artificial intelligence (AI) might help, not only by helping to process the large amounts of baggage tracking data produced by these new systems but also by helping pinpoint locations of larger numbers of bags and estimate delivery times with better accuracy.

SITA Lab has also explored giving airlines the tools to track mishandled bags all the way to your door. A pilot of SITA’s WorldTracer baggage tracking solution followed baggage couriers’ vans on a real-time road map, which would let the airline see just how close your bag is to finally getting home.

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