Delta Pioneers Technology to End Lost Luggage

Travelers can finally say goodbye to arguably the most annoying aspect of travel, lost luggage.

Delta Air Lines is investing $50 million in solving one of air travels biggest headaches, lost and delayed luggage.

Currently, your luggage tag has its own unique 10-digit number which is scanned manually by airline baggage attendants using a handheld scanner. When the unique number does not match the flight details, the scanner then flashes an error. There are a number of issues this process can render in a world where airlines are continuously going neck to neck fighting for the best on-time ratings. Reading each barcode with a handheld scanner is extremely time consuming and employees focused on trying to get the plane out on time can easily overlook errors in baggage handling or forget to scan the bag entirely.

With RFID tags, bags get loaded onto a conveyor belt while a small computer verifies the bag belongs on that flight, in which case a red light would flash and the belt would stop until the mistake is acknowledged. Essentially, there will no longer be a need for scanners.

Delta Air Lines is responsible for 120 million checked suitcases every year where 1 out of every 500 end up in a random city. The Atlanta-based airline is known for having the best baggage handling records but there is always room for improvement. RFID technology is not new to the world; it is typically used at warehouses to track goods. If successful, Delta will be the first airline to globally use the technology for passenger bags.

Replacing handheld scanners grants ramp workers both free hands to lift bags. This means fewer injuries and more efficient loading and unloading. RFID also cuts the time to find and remove a bag from a plane last minute. The bigger picture here is more on-time flights. By the end of this year, Delta promises its passengers the ability to track their luggage via a Delta smartphone app that tracks your bag at every step of the journey. If your bag doesn’t make it onto your flight you are notified instantly.

That way passengers "aren't standing at a baggage carousel waiting for the last piece of luggage to come off to realize their bag isn't there," says Sandy Gordon, Delta's vice president of airport operations for the eastern U.S.

Delta the nation’s second largest carrier by traffic, is on track to offer the world’s most comprehensive tracking system the industry has seen yet. Going into the new year, the airline plans to have this technology standard on all Delta flights. 

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