June 1, 2016

RFID Bag Tracking…Why?

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Written by: Andrew Poure
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(Editor’s Note: This is the second article in a two part series exploring the pros and cons of using RFID technology for tracking checked bags.) 

A few weeks ago when Delta announced a large scale initiative to implement RFID baggage tracking into their network, I was immediately a bit skeptical.

The airline presents the $50 million move as a way to reduce mishandled baggage, and in turn improve the overall customer experience and reduce customer complaints. But this well-intentioned investment falls flat for a number of reasons.

DSC_4549First, mishandled bags are already a far rarer occurrence than ever before; leading air transport technology company SITA reports that the number of mishandled bags globally has been cut in half since 2007. Modern baggage handling systems in airports around the world already involve high tech elements that reduce errors and improve speed. Why Delta feels the need to allocate such a large sum of money for what is arguably a problem they don’t have is unclear.

Second, the human element does not magically disappear by adding RFID to bags and belt loaders. While the newer technology could certainly incrementally improve baggage handling performance under ideal circumstances, anyone who’s spent time on an airport ramp or the bag room underbellies of major airport terminals knows that ideal circumstances aren’t exactly common. When an A320 taxis in with 45 minutes to turn around and make its next on time departure, it’s difficult to imagine with a straight face that an understaffed ramp crew will be diligently ensuring every single checked bag is recognized by an RFID scanner at the bottom of a belt loader, as opposed to simply working as quickly as possible to load each bag within the aircraft’s weight and balance limitations, in order to get the aircraft in the air safely.

DSC_0546Finally, belt loaders get bumped, soaked with rain, snow, and deicing fluid, baked in summer sun, kicked and walked all over by ramp agents, and altogether treated like garbage, due to the inherent nature of the role they serve. Small sensors and electronic components like RFID readers are the types of things that break all the time in intense conditions, and that means going back to RFID-less baggage handling whenever such a failure occurs. Delta certainly won’t be delaying a flight due to lack of bag tracking.

Maybe Delta’s on to something. Maybe they’ll cut their bag handling errors even more with their system-wide tracking, and their RFID hardware will prove to be bulletproof…But if I were a betting man, I’d be betting that their money’s better spent on other aspects of the customer experience.

Andrew Poure is a lifelong aviation geek with experience in multiple aspects of airline operations, both at the airport and behind the scenes. He’s currently employed at an international cargo airline and is always seeking out aviation adventures. Follow him on Twitter.

About the Author

Andrew Poure



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