It can leave even the most hardened traveller feeling a little sick. You’re stood at the airport baggage carousel with cases and backpacks of every shape and colour slowly winding their way past your eyes — but yours is nowhere to be seen.
Now airlines are preparing to solve the problem of lost luggage by introducing technology to track bags throughout their journey.
Delta Air Lines is believed to be the first of the big carriers to embed radio frequency chips into baggage tags. In the £38 million system, to be introduced by the US airline this year, luggage will transmit a signal to information receivers, replacing the barcode hand scanners that have been used by airlines for decades.
It represents the most ambitious use yet of technology designed to prevent some 23 million pieces of luggage being lost or delayed worldwide each year.
Air France/KLM has a tag that uses GPS and Bluetooth to allow passengers to track bags — alerting them when the bag is on a carousel and even telling them if it has been opened.
Other airlines such as Qantas, Lufthansa, Alaska Airlines and the US budget carrier JetBlue are also testing the technology.
The developments will pile pressure on airlines in the UK to introduce similar systems amid anger over the number of bags being lost.
The Civil Aviation Authority says 1,070 complaints have been made against UK airlines this year over lost and damaged bags.
In response, some carriers are implementing new lost luggage finder systems. From next year, BA will introduce an electronic tag that passengers can reuse without the need for a paper tag every time they fly. However, the technology, which has been trialled over the last three years, does not include a tracking device.
EasyJet has an online tracker that sends text messages and emails to passengers to give them information on efforts to find lost luggage, although it does not electronically track bags.
Nick Preston, sales director for Trace Me, a UK-based company that puts identity code tags on bags to match them with passengers if they get lost, said travellers were concerned about the ability of airlines to take care of their belongings.
He said: “The growth in air travel has been exponential but there has also been a huge strain on the infrastructure of airports and airlines of handling luggage.
“Baggage has become an increasing problem and, with it, people have become more concerned with losing their valuables.”
However, he doubted that e-trackers would provide the solution for all lost luggage. “Those systems will only work at particular times or distances,” he said. “When you have an airport with millions of miles of underground cavity, bags will get lost.
“It will give added frustration that a bag is going round the carousel at another airport without being recovered.”