Headline October 06, 2016/ ''' LUGGAGE *TRACKING* TECHNOLOGY '''



ON A RECENT SOUTHWEST Airlines flight from Baltimore, Shvilla Rasheem arrived in Indianapolis,  but her luggage did not.

Ms. Rasheem, a 34 year old consultant, said she always checks her bags when flying on Southwest because there is no fee, ''I never thought of the possibility that I would not get my luggage,'' she said.

She had a good reason not to worry. Statistics compiled by Sita, an aviation technology company, shows a steadily decreasing likelihood of bags going astray.

Last year had the lowest rate of wayward luggage   -6.5 bags per 1,000- in the dozen years Sita has been keeping track.

Various advances in technology and bag handling procedures deserve credit, including improvements over the years in the bar-coded tags and optical scanners that have long been in use for identifying and sorting checked luggage.

But optical-scanning systems have their limits, and the airline industry has been slow to adopt methods used by other industries that need to track items through the shipping process.

Where bar-coded bags fall short if the tag is wrinkled, smudged or torn, or not in the line of sight of the scanner. If the tag is not readable, the bag can get lost without being noticed  -which could be why no one was aware that Ms. Hasheem's bag did not get loaded onto her flight.

Bar code readers have a  ''read rate''  of  80 to 85 percent of baggage tags, according to Nick Gates, a director at Sita responsible for baggage technology. ''If you can improve the read rate  of bag tags,'' Mr. Gates said, ''there is less chance the bag will be delayed as it moves through the airport.''

That is why the airline industry, and some airport managers, is intent on improving the tracking rate by looking beyond the  30-year old  baggage bar code. They are adopting tags that do not need to be seen to be read.''

Delta Air Lines has installed a system using bar-code tags that also have an embedded  radio frequency identification, R.F.I.D., chip. Such chips can store travel information and need to be only close to radio scanners along the way for the bag's progress to be recorded.

As with Delta's older barcode tags, flier's can use the airline's travel app to keep track of their bags.
''This the next step in reliability,'' said Rodney Brooks, general manager of airport operations at Delta.

Air France, the  German airline Lufthansa and Qantas of Australia are among those that have experimented with radio chip luggage tags. But adoption has lagged at airlines in the United States  -which could change with Delta's decision.

The airline is spending $50 million on the necessary scanners, printers and radio tags, which also use bar codes and look little different from conventional bar-code tags.

The system is now in place at all of the 344 airports into which Delta flies and is expected to be operational by the end of this month.

Though still fairly novel in airline applications, R.F.I.D. technology is hardly new.

It has been used for decades to keep track of shipments of merchandise, which is why many people wonder why it has not already been adopted by airlines, said Ryan Ghee, editor of FutureTravelExperience.com.

''Look at online retailing like Amazon and the logistics industry,'' Mr.Ghee said. ''People ordered something and could have it delivered immediately to where they wanted it to go. every step on the journey they could see,''Where is my parcel? People got use to that.''

Widespread adoption of radio chip tags in the air travel industry has not been easy to achieve, despite the efforts of the International Air Transport Association, a trade group.

It has set a deadline of summer 2018 when all 265 member airlines should be able to track and fully trace bags  -not only on their own flights, but also when passengers connect to other carriers.   

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