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OM in the News: The Solution to the Lost Luggage Problem

May 19, 2017

An unclaimed bag at the Charlotte N.C. Airport

The airline industry says its rate of mishandled baggage is lower than ever, down more than 12% from 2015 and the lowest ever recorded. “Much of the reduction is due to investments by airlines in technology improvements,” writes The New York Times (May 16, 2017).  Still, that is small comfort to the lone traveler waiting by a deserted carousel with a sinking feeling.

There are myriad reasons a bag can go missing. “Weather and missed connections are by far the largest proportion of causes for bags not arriving on time,” says Delta’s VP. “We’ve invested about $50 million in deploying baggage tech across our organization,” he said. That investment includes integrating baggage data into the Delta mobile app. “If you’re traveling and you check a bag, you get a push notification when your bag is loaded.”

New technology and better baggage handling procedures had paid off, but the drop also coincided with the major carriers beginning to charge passenger fees for checking a bag. Those fees reduced the number of travelers checking bags.

Bag tags are now embedded with RFID chips, which means the location of bags is tracked and electronically crosschecked against a database to make sure that they are in the right place at the right time. This increases security, since each bag is linked to a ticketed passenger. It also speeds up the discovery of a bag in the wrong place so the process of reconnecting a bag to its owner can begin sooner.

At most U.S. airports, the airlines have operational control of their terminals, so it is incumbent on them to add new technology. By June, 2018, all airlines must maintain an accurate inventory of passenger baggage by tracking when each piece of checked luggage moves on, off or between planes.

Classroom discussion questions:

  1. Discuss how Alaska Air guarantees its 20 minute baggage delivery. (See the Video Case Study in Chapter 7).
  2. What is the role of RFID in baggage tracking?

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