Technologies applied to baggage tracking at the airport

Today, a traveler from New York to London can be tracked from the moment he leaves his home to the moment he steps off the plane in London. The technologies applied to baggage tracking at airports are changing how airports operate and how travelers move through them.

With millions of bags travelling around the country and across the world, monitoring where they are and how they are being handled is crucial. If a bag doesn’t show up when it’s supposed to or is mishandled by airport staff, it can be extremely disruptive to passengers’ travel plans and companies’ bottom lines.

The baggage tracking process at airports is more complicated than you think. It’s far more than employees walking around with luggage tags, scratching their heads and hoping that everything turns out fine on the other end. At the heart of it, there are a few key technologies being used to make sure that your bags are there when you arrive—and that no one tries to sneak away with them.

Common technologies applied to baggage tracking at the airport

Manual bag tracking systems introduced in the 1970s used barcode scanning, which was initially slow and required agents to individually scan each bag. Now, ULDs (standard units used to transport baggage within an aircraft) are equipped with sensors which can automatically identify a bag and provide a record of its location.   

The majority of airports worldwide use some form of tracking system to monitor their baggage, but some are more advanced than others.  

London Heathrow, for example, uses radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to track items. RFID terminals are located throughout the airport to identify bags as they go through screening. The terminals communicate with readers at each point of the baggage route, which are in turn connected to a central system. The data collected by the readers is transmitted wirelessly at regular intervals via RFID-enabled gateways, which then communicate with a joint wireless LAN. The data is then stored in a central tracking system that can be accessed from anywhere in the airport.

Common myths about baggage tracking at the airport

Some people believe that the technology used for baggage tracking is invasive, but it’s actually a very simple system. In fact, during the whole process the only thing that’s being tracked is a unique code printed on each bag tag. This code communicates with readers strategically placed throughout the airport until it arrives at the baggage carousel in your terminal. There is no personal information attached to this code, therefore there’s nothing for you to worry about.   

What are the benefits of RFID for baggage tracking?

The use of RFID technology at airports is thought to have multiple benefits such as:

  • It makes it easier to identify bags quickly
  • Allows for real-time tracking of bags
  • Gives all the information about a specific bag in one place
  • Provides real-time data to better manage baggage operations
  • Improves customer satisfaction.  

In order to enhance the baggage tracking process, airports have been adding RFID-enabled self-service check-in areas. These systems allow you to save time and reduce the need for manual tagging by having travelers print their own baggage tags at self-service kiosks. The printed tags are then attached to the bags (just like traditional tags) and sent through baggage screening. They are then routed to the carousel in the bag claim hall.   

RFID technology is slowly but surely becoming more prevalent, and it will likely replace traditional barcodes permanently in the very near future.   

Final thoughts

Baggage tracking may seem simple to the average traveler, but it’s an extremely complicated process that constantly changes in order to accommodate constantly increasing passenger volume. It requires a lot of coordination and planning, not to mention the use of several different technologies in order to make sure that everyone’s bags arrive on time and in good condition.   

There’s a lot more to it than meets the eye, but the good news is that it’s not something you have to worry about. As long as you follow a few basic rules, everything will go smoothly.   

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