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Delta Pushing to Reduce Delayed Baggage

Travelers aren’t the only ones longing for the days of delayed baggage to come to an end.

The Associated Press’ Scott Mayerowitz reports that Delta is working hard to find a solution to lost and delayed baggage, and may be closer than you’d think. “Delta already has one of the airline industry’s best luggage handling records — just 1 out of every 500 bags failed to arrive on time,” Mayerowitz writes, “but hopes that by deploying a RFID, or radio-frequency identification, tracking system globally it can improve further.”

Upgrading a System to Reduce Delayed Baggage

Delta’s system is surprisingly simple: Instead of bag tags with bar codes, which must be scanned individually by hand, the airline is experimenting with RFID tags that can be wirelessly and automatically scanned as they’re sorted. “As each suitcase climbs up the conveyor belt into the plane,” Mayerowitz writes, “a small computer verifies that it actually belongs on that flight.” A red light flashes and the belt stops when a bag doesn’t belong on the flight, alerting baggage handlers to the wayward suitcase. This reduces the possibility of human error and frees up handlers to use both hands, which is safer and speeds up the process.

Delta is also using RFID to track bags through the various baggage routing networks at airports. All told, the airline is investing $50 million and expects to reduce delayed baggage by roughly 10 percent.

This is a tacit acknowledgement that Delta’s customers expect—and quite frankly deserve—better baggage service now that bag fees are the status quo. For $25 a bag, it’s reasonable to expect that the bag will arrive in the same destination as you and at the same time, right? Soon passengers will be able to track their bags as well and receive instant notifications whenever there’s an issue.

A New Trend?

What about other carriers? Mayerowitz says other airlines are likely to follow suit if Delta’s experiment pays off, and suggests RFID chips could soon be built into luggage itself—something luggage company Rimowa is already playing with.

Having said all this, note that the operative word here is “reduce.” There’s no way to fully eliminate lost and delayed baggage. There will always be unforeseeable circumstances, notably weather, that can lead to misplaced or misrouted bags.

But even now, Delta says most of its delayed baggage—208,000 out of 245,000 total—are delivered within three hours. That’s not too bad when you consider Delta’s size, and it’s encouraging to see the airline trying to bring those numbers down further. In the end, it seems those bag fees are doing more than just padding Delta’s bottom line.

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