The State of the Science: Tracking Bags

Despite dramatic growth to four billion passengers served in 2017, airlines have set a new record with only 5.57 bags mishandled per thousand passengers.

Barbara Dalibard, CEO, SITA, says: “Over the last decade, we have seen significant improvements in bag management as airlines have taken advantage of technology. Now with IATA’s drive for 100% bag tracking, technology adoption will rise further. End-to-end tracking produces data which reveals where improvements can be made in operational processes. While we won’t see a sudden change in 2018, it is a real turning point for the industry as airlines begin to unlock the value of the tracking data for the 4.65 billion bags they carry.”

Overall Improvement

The SITA 2018 report shows that the most likely point of baggage mishandling in the journey continues to be during baggage transfer on connecting flights. Transfer mishandling accounts for 47% of all mishandled bag incidents around the globe; with the second highest cause of mishandling—failure to load—accounting for only 16% of incidents.

By far, most (78%) baggage mishandling involves delayed bags, with only 5% of all bags handed being lost.

US airlines overcame significant irregular operations events during 2017, including snow storms, hurricanes, and a power outlet at the world’s busiest airport—Atlanta—while still setting a new record low for baggage mishandling. There were only 2.4 reports of mishandled bags per thousand domestic passengers.

However, Asia outperforms both North America and Europe in baggage reliability. There were only 1.92 reports of mishandled bags per thousand passengers served, despite significant passenger growth in the region. This mishandling figure is 6% higher than in 2016, but passenger numbers grew in the region by 10%.

Beatrice Lim, Director – Industry & Regulatory Affairs, Association of Asia Pacific Airlines says: “Overall, the region’s average mishandling rate remains well below the industry average. Recognizing the challenges, airlines and airports are continuously investing in upgrading and modernizing baggage handling systems and related infrastructure, as well as exploring advanced IT solutions with the aim of improving operational efficiency.”

While Europe continues to have a higher rate (6.94 per thousand passengers) baggage mishandling than North America and Asia, and a rate above the global average, there has been a marked improvement over 2016 when the rate of mishandled bags in Europe was 8.06 per thousand passengers.

Digital Initiatives

SITA predicts that the next big leap in baggage management improvements will come from digital initiatives like real-time notifications on the status of bags to passengers’ devices, and fast self-service bag drop. SITA expects that the number of airlines offering passengers bag tracking information will increase dramatically over the next two years as airlines adopt Resolution 753, with eight out of ten airlines either implementing or planning to implement missing bag reporting and missing bag communications.

Peter Drummond, portfolio director baggage, SITA says: “We have observed a remarkable increase of interest in digitizing baggage processes to meet the requirements of Resolution 753. Russia’s S7 Airlines was able to achieve this very quickly as 50% of its baggage traffic was already digital thanks to SITA’s baggage services already in place. These services have also allowed the carrier to improve its passenger experience by enabling its customers to track their baggage at Domodedovo Airport via the S7 mobile app.

“India’s newest airport, the Multi-modal International Cargo Hub and Airport at Nagpur (MIHAN) is planning to have efficient technologies in place that will future-proof growth from day one. The airport, which is expected to accommodate up to 14 million passengers on completion in 2035, will be deploying SITA’s BagManager to accurately track passengers’ bags and significantly reduce the likelihood of them being mishandled.

“The key learning from these examples is that Resolution 753 returns real benefits to the airports and airlines that are implementing its requirements. However, we are on the threshold of potentially even greater, albeit yet to be defined, rewards. The collection of all this bag tracking data when combined with data science and machine learning will really help the air transport industry achieve a major a step change in baggage handling.”

SITA also expects that improvements in data science and machine learning will reduce baggage handling costs. Even the significantly reduced number of mishandled bags cost the airline industry $2.3 billion in 2017.

Practical Applications

One example of airlines embracing new technology for baggage management included in the SITA report is Bahamas Air’s deployment of SITA’s BagJourney for Resolution 753 compliance. The airline also plans to use baggage tracking data from BagJourney to keep passengers informed on the status of their bags through an integration with the Bahamasair App.

John Fowler, senior director with responsibility for customer service, Bahamasair says: “This transformation is costly due to the numerous devices and infrastructure that must now be acquired and erected, but we are committed to achieving compliance and we fully understand the benefits of Resolution 753. My advice is that although the price tag may look big at the beginning, the savings from reduced claims and payouts, and improved customer satisfaction, will create more value. The resolution will save all airlines in the long run.”

Istanbul’s New Airport is also cited in the SITA report, detailing plans to adopt new technology as it prepares to serve 200 million passengers per year by the fourth and final phase of its development—equal to handling 28,800 bags per hour.

Vedat YIildiz, airport systems manager, Istanbul New Airport says: “All the bags delivered to the baggage handling system after check-in and transfer will be scanned by automatic tag readers and optical character recognition (OCR) scanners. Then they will be loaded into unique individual carrier system (ICS) trays. These ICS trays will have RFID tags and the baggage tags will be matched with them throughout the bags’ journey in the chute area. We will use Wi-Fi hand scanners to deal with over-sized bags.

“There will also be ‘Hot Bag’ carousels at the manipulation area for flights with short connection times. Short-connection bags scanned by the OCR will be included into the system 35 minutes before the scheduled departure time. Late-connecting bags will be redirected to those ‘Hot Bag’ carousels in order for them to catch the next flight.

“In response to feedback from our stakeholders, we are providing an OCR system to scan bags on arrival, plus hand scanners for over-sized bags. SITA’s baggage solution will provide the IT infrastructure that makes it possible for airlines to track bags at key points in the journey, including check-in, transfer and arrival.

“We expect the number of mishandled bags will be lower, thanks to this 100% bag tracking and compensation fees will be lower as well. At the same time, the OCR technology will reduce the number of “no-read” bags, so we will not require as many staff at some work stations, for example manual coding, problematic bag stations. Finally, we expect ground handler, airline and passenger satisfaction will be higher.”



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