Once Again We're Told That RFID Will Soon Make Lost Luggage A Thing Of The Past

from the wash-rinse-repeat-and-repeat-again-and-again dept

One of the more interesting parts of following the tech world is to see the ways people take different technologies or products and use them in different and unexpected ways. While many of the resulting products aren’t necessarily that useful, it can be quite cool just to see how people innovate. On the flip side of that, it can get pretty frustrating to watch how technology doesn’t get used to change or improve certain things. One example of this is airline baggage handling. The shortcomings of airlines’ current baggage systems are pretty obvious, even after the introduction of barcode luggage tags and optical scanners to read them. For many years, RFID has been held up as the saving grace of baggage handling, with promises that it can eradicate lost and mishandled bags. But despite all the hype, it’s failed to make much of an impact, largely for financial reasons. Now, again, we’re being told that RFID is on the cusp of breaking through in a big way, but somehow we remain skeptical. Apparently the cost for RFID luggage tags has dropped significantly, from more than $1 each to as little as 15 cents, and the IATA, the world trade body for airlines, will decide in June whether or not to mandate a phase-in of their use. Even if the IATA decides to move ahead, plenty of obstacles still remain, such as how airlines and airports will split the cost for the scanning systems and tags — then, of course, there’s the small matter of implementation. The IATA has set a technology standard for the tags and secured a global frequency for them, so compatibility shouldn’t be an issue. But what about compatibility of the systems airlines and airports will use to track the bags? Different airports’ systems need to be able to make their tracking information available to the airlines, whose systems will also have to be able to play nicely with each other. While we’d love to see RFID radically improve airlines’ baggage handling (particularly given several Techdirters’ recent experiences) the amount of hype and the length of time it’s been built up really makes us feel like we’ll believe it when we see it — or rather when we start seeing our bags on the luggage carousel at the end of trip more frequently.

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Comments on “Once Again We're Told That RFID Will Soon Make Lost Luggage A Thing Of The Past”

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Anonymous of Course says:


If they really wanted to improve baggage handling
they could have done so long ago, using bar code
(or other optical code) labels printed with your
tickets and installing readers in strategic locations.
USP and FED-EX seem to have worked this out to
a fair degree.

Even if they do adopt RFID I doubt it will be much
of an improvement if your luggage ends up in a dumpster
instead of the airplane’s hold.

haywood says:

Re: Bah!

“If they really wanted to improve baggage handling
they could have done so long ago, using bar code
(or other optical code) labels printed with your
tickets and installing readers in strategic locations.
USP and FED-EX seem to have worked this out to
a fair degree.”

UPS may be able to tell you where your package is, but they still seem to be able to put it on the wrong truck, sending it the opposite direction from my house.

Jack says:

Re: Re: Bah!

I am Jack’s 4th dimension.

In physics, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.

In logistics, the shortest distance between two points is via the fastest available distribution channels.

In transportation, the shortest distance between two points is irrelevant.

What is relevant is the cheapest path an object can be delivered along and still meet the quoted delivery time.

Anonymous of Course says:


If they really wanted to improve baggage handling
they could have done so long ago, using bar code
(or other optical code) labels printed with your
tickets and installing readers in strategic locations.
USP and FED-EX seem to have worked this out to
a fair degree.

Even if they do adopt RFID I doubt it will be much
of an improvement if your luggage ends up in a dumpster
instead of the airplane’s hold.

one-third says:

Aside from the issues above

There’s the matter of properly attaching the RFID tags, putting the correct data on them and/or associating the tag with the owner’s destination and/or flight, training people in the use, etc.

Assuming they decide to go forth with a RFID luggage tag, it will have to be a dual use tag, both RFID and current technology and devise a new standard or, preferably, use an existing standard for data on the tag, so that the RFID readers, regardless of manufacturer, are largely interchangeable.

And that’s still not solving the problems that will come up with damaged or inoperable tags, system error causing an entire planes luggage to be put somewhere else and, to be perfectly honest, lost or stolen luggage. Because if there’s not a reader in range to read the tag, the tag is ‘lost’. And you are tracking the tag, not the luggage.

Sanguine Dream says:

Sounds to me...

Don’t get me wrong I’m all for an accurate way to track baggage but this sounds like nothing more than attempt to raise ticket prices. Kinda like how cable, phone, and internet bills are constantly rising with the promise of expanded/improved service but nothing improves and in some cases things actually get worse.

And if this bright idea came from some government official and is government mandated then I definitely see it going down as one of those doomed government tech projects.

Jack says:

I am Jack

I am Jack’s exercise in futility.

RFID is a means, not an end.

RFID is nothing more than a means to give an automaton more precise information than they would by other means.

RFID just makes the same capabilities offered by other automaton interfaces slightly more accurate, and have a slightly higher payload of data.

The reason the original automaton interface didnt carry a “payload” of information was that it was deemed difficult and fruitless. A simple serial number served all purposes quite well. If you needed more data, you connected your automaton to the database, and wiht that serial number, they could query anything necessary.

RFID doesnt change that. It allows you to cache information in the “barcode” but thats not really a good thing. Data tends to expire with a random rate of decay. The best thing you can do is ALWAYS look up current information and just a serial number is perfect for that.

So what else then, could RFID offer besides expired information? It makes it slightly easier for the automaton to get the serial number. And when I say slightly, I mean it. Only slightly.

What are the problems being solved by having an automaton use radio waves to retrieve a serial number? The baggage accidentally rolled over and the scanner can’t see the barcode. No problem, right? Cause radio waves can penetrate what light cannot? Sure, sometimes RFID scanners can catch that which the barcode scanner missed.

RFID is not going to save anything. It is a small and barely significant improvement to a simple barcode, and one that adds in its own universe of complications that cannot be ignored (and are usually overcome with human/machine readable barcodes). It is an improvement? Sure. Is it even revolutionary? Not even remotely.

(Yes, I have had the dubious destinction of participating in several RFID “projects” for the military attempting to “solve” insignificant problems in their logistics processes. Yes, they failed to achieve anything relevant. No, it was not my fault, I just provided feedback as a business analyst.)

Matt Bennett says:

Look, they could have been doing a much better job already, they just weren’t. There’s nothing really you can do with RFID that you can do with a bar code, excpet it’s a litte less effort to read the tag.

Fact of the matter is, it’s just incompetence. The financial penalty for occasional lost bags is not high, and baggage handlers are not the geniisus of our society.

JJ says:

When an airline loses your luggage, I believe the max reimbursement is $200. They can then auction off your items for $2000. They have no incentive to find your luggage, and they make more money by not finding it.

A simple luggage tag with your contact information should be all that is needed to get your luggage back.

RFID could be an improvement if the rf chip has your information. This way everytime the luggage passes through a doorway they can track it on a computer.

Trouble Maker says:

two cents worth

..RFID…yea right. (I have dealt with them)

It is not a tagging issue, it is simple a matter of responsibility. In many airports that handle the sorting and loading of bags the old fashion way (by hand) in many examples out shine all the automated systems, why? Personal Responsibility, someone taking pride in doing their job well and taking ownership of doing the job right.

But hey, who wants to pay for that?

Who wants to pay teachers for the job they do?

Who wants to pay the Police, Firefighters and most of all our Military for the job they do?

Who wants to pay for that, when as a nation we pay for all those PROFESSIONAL Athletes?

Enrico Suarve says:

I don't honestly see the current problem

I used to fly for work all the time (literally hundreds of flights a year)

I’ve had bags go missing for a day or so, bags go to wrong airports, i’ve even had one occasion where my bag got to the destination but I didn’t (and I still bore people with that one at parties). But I’ve never had a bag actually lost (maximum delay was 3 days)

The problem I have always encountered is on connecting flights and the fact that handlers cannot always get the bag from one plane to another in time

I don’t honestly see RFID helping in this much. It may help to spot the odd bag leaving the baggage bay on the wrong cart and it may help quickly locating the right bag to remove from a plane when duffus doesn’t show at the gate but other than that I really don’t see that much it will help with

|333173|3|_||3 says:

when transferring luggage from one flight to the other, they tend to try to put all the luggage for one transfer on the same containers, saving handling. the obvious solution to the problem of incorreclt oriented luggage would be to have the sticker put on each side at a fixed point. the machine could then scan just four points of the nearest side to find the barcode.

Nasty Old Geezer says:

RFID won't help

The last time my bag strayed (I got it back after a couple of days) the baggage handling equipment had torn off the tag, along with a chunk of my bag. Fortunately my person name tag was elsewhere, and a real person read it and got it routed to me.

RFID would just give a false sense of security and accuracy.

I would rather have money go into baggage handling equipment that did not tear up my luggage. The routing process works pretty well now.

Nobody Special says:

look at how it is done

Recently “Dirty Jobs” had an episode at the airport. The first job done by the host was baggage handler. Seems that the bags were sorted by hand. The simple fact is that people will not be accepting of what would be needed to automate the process fully.

RFID offers a huge leap in ability to automate though since unlike a bar code, it need not be stuck to the side of the bag. It can be any orientation. Of course, for this to work best, perhaps the RFID tag should be placed inside the bag where it is least likely to get separated.

It won’t solve all the problems, but unlike bar codes has a decent chance of being used all the time. It would be feasible to scan an entire cart and alert the handlers if there is a bag missing, or one that doesn’t belong.

All the same, regardless of the intensity of complaints the odds of your bag going missing are quite low. That is not to say that the experience gets better. The real route to reductions would to increase the cost of losing (even for a short period) a bag. For instance if the airline had a legal obligation to buy an outfit if the bag wasn’t in your possession within a period of time from landing. As long as liability is limited to $200 (like it was more then 20 years ago) they have little real reason to worry much.

Bill Poulsen (user link) says:

RFID for luggage

The technical obstacles to an RFID system for baggage control are not that difficult. The difficulty, as stated in th earticle, is more or less about the cost factor and who will pay.

I am a frequent business travel and RFID professional. Being a frequent traveler, I happily paid $5 or more for an Indestructable metal luggage tag. I have been a proponent of offering an inexpensive service to th etraveller, a luggage tag registration process. I pay $5 or so for a permantly assigned luggage tag. Works across airports and can be moved from one piece of my luggage to another.

I am even for someone charging me a low, yearly fee, say another $5 per year to maintain the registration. This could potentially be helpful to TSA and at teh same time make my luggage mroe traceable and likely to get to its destination. It could even be set up to email if my luggage passes through a reader portal at the Wrong airport.

People who dont buy the permanent tag would be charged an additional $1 airport fee to cove rthe tag cost. Th eones pre-registerd, only $5 a year.

Although this would not cover the infrastructure cost, it would eliminate the cost to the airport or airline for the tag itself, which across the millions of bags being processed a year, would be a recurring and probably overall more costly than the infrastructure.

just a thought..

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