Radio frequency to track lost bags

Friday July 05 2019

RFID technology enables bags to be identified and tracked without human intervention, significantly reducing the margin for error. FILE PHOTO | NMG


Losing your luggage can be one of the most upsetting experiences of air travel.

With journeys often compacted into a tight schedule, luggage often contains those items that a traveller deems most essential.

On a trip home, check-in baggage can contain your most treasured items—presents for family and friends.

While the airline industry has made progress towards reducing the probability of lost luggage, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) reports that still, 0.06 per cent of the 4.3 billion pieces of airline luggage were either lost or misdirected in 2018.

If that is disheartening, hope is on the way. At the recent annual general meeting in Seoul, IATA passed a resolution urging global adoption of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) for baggage tracking.

The association says embedding RFID technology into the current bar code luggage tags would further reduce the number of lost or misdirected bags.


The technology enables bags to be identified and tracked without human intervention, significantly reducing the margin for error.

Misdirected bags

Seventy eight per cent of the world’s airlines have already implemented RFID, resulting in a 70 per cent reduction in misdirected baggage between 2007 and 2018. On average, 99.9 per cent of misdirected bags are recovered in two days.

“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. Deploying RFID and adopting modern baggage messaging standards will help us to cut mishandlings by a quarter and recover bags that are mishandled more quickly,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA's director general and chief executive.

An advance on the current system that uses bar codes and is still in widespread use across Africa, RFID read rates have been found to be 99.98 per cent accurate.

Implementing modern baggage messaging standards can help to track passengers’ baggage more accurately in real time at different points of the journey.

According to IATA, a modern global messaging standard, adopted across the industry, would enable airlines to take preventive action when potential for mishandling baggage is detected.

Acting in concert with RFID, modern messaging standards are expected to further reduce the mishandling rate by a quarter.

IATA is urging airlines to make a transition to bar-coded bag tags embedded with RFID inlays and to work with airports and ground handlers to develop processes that trigger alerts when potential for mishandling baggage is detected.

Although IATA’s resolution on RFID adoption did not set any deadline, it is anticipated that global implementation could be achieved within four years.

Airports would be required to insert RFID technology and modern baggage messaging standards into their infrastructure while ground handlers replace tracking processes with RFID technology.

Adopting the technology would also reduce aircraft turnaround times and lead to fewer delayed flights since baggage can be loaded and offloaded faster.

“Implementing RFID tracking technology and adopting modern messaging standards is a team effort. Airlines, airports and ground handlers need to work together. And the motivation is to satisfy customers,” said de Juniac.

The proposed migration to RFID is one of several initiatives the airline industry is implementing in order to improve the passenger experience.

IATA is also pressing governments to fast-track the development of global standards for the One ID, a single biometric identifier that would allow a passenger to travel through different regions and jurisdictions with a single security check at the point of departure.