Whether taking a non-stop flight or transiting from one aircraft to the next, having a barcoded tag attached to your baggage is a staple of travel the world over: but that could soon change, with new contactless RFID baggage tags set to replace the humble barcode.
According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) – which represents some 290 airlines spanning 82% of global air traffic – changing to RFID baggage tags will not only make it easier for airlines to keep track of baggage, it’s also expected to reduce the number of bags that go astray.
RFID is the same wireless technology used by Qantas with its Q Bag Tags on Australian domestic flights, although IATA’s planned implementation would be as universal as the current baggage barcodes: being both recognised and readable by airports and airlines across the globe.
“We’ve been able to improve the processes of baggage to a certain point,” shares IATA’s Senior Vice President Airports, Passenger, Cargo & Security Nick Careen at the IATA AGM in Seoul, “but to be able to get to the next level, we need to track them 100% of the time.”
“Passengers want to arrive with their bags, and on the rare occasion when that does not happen, they want to know exactly where their bag is,” adds Alexandre de Juniac, IATA's Director General and CEO.
Switching to contactless baggage tags would assist airlines and airports not just in locating and loading bags faster, but also identifying potential baggage ‘mishandlings’ – such as when a bag is left behind, or has been sent towards the wrong aircraft – by triggering alerts at the airport and with the appropriate ground handling staff, who could take immediate action to get the bag back on-track.
IATA shares that in 2018, less than 0.06% of the estimated 4.3 billion bags carried by airlines were mishandled, with 99.9% of mishandled bags returned to their owners within two days.
When fully-utilised, the change to RFID baggage tags – combined with those airport-based alerts – would further reduce the industry’s error rate by 25%, says IATA, representing a quarter of all bags currently delayed or lost simply arriving on the belt as planned in the future: and when bags are delayed, would help locate and return them more quickly.
That said, it’s ultimately up to airlines and airports to roll out the technology, and while IATA anticipates this could be achieved globally within four years, the industry body has not set a firm rollout timeline for its members.
“All of our airlines want to do this,” continues Careen. “So instead of putting hard dates on it, as the business case is sound, and our customers want it as well, we believe that’s it not necessary to set a date.”
Chris Chamberlin attended the IATA AGM in Seoul as a guest of IATA.