Airline uses radio chips to track down lost bags

It’s a traveler’s worst nightmare – standing at the airport baggage carousel watching suitcase after suitcase pass by, but yours is nowhere to be found. Lost luggage is a huge hassle affecting millions of travelers worldwide each year. But airlines are starting to fight back against lost bags with new tracking technology.

Delta Air Lines is leading the charge. They are investing $38 million to embed radio frequency tracking chips into luggage tags. These RFID chips will transmit signals to airport receivers, replacing the old handheld barcode scanners. This is the most ambitious use of tracking technology by an airline so far.

Other carriers are trying out different systems. Air France/KLM tags use GPS and Bluetooth to track bags and send alerts. Qantas, Lufthansa, Alaska Air, and JetBlue are testing out options too. With over 1,000 complaints this year in the UK over lost luggage, pressure is mounting for European airlines to keep up.

British Airways will launch reusable electronic bag tags next year to replace paper tags. But these e-tags don’t actually track the bags’ locations. EasyJet has an online tracking system to communicate about lost bag searches, but again, no live tracking ability.

Will electronic tracking solve the lost luggage problem once and for all? Experts have some doubts. Modern airports use electric baggage tug to quickly and efficiently move luggage between aircraft and terminals. While very helpful, these electric tugs can sometimes inadvertently shift bags away from their intended destinations. So even with tracking, bags may sometimes slip away briefly before being located again. The technology isn’t perfect yet.

RFID Chips – Do They Really Work?

The airline industry seems to be betting big on RFID luggage tags as the solution to lost bags. But some experts argue that the technology has flaws. RFID signals can be blocked by water and metal. With bags packed tight in an airplane cargo hold, the signal may not always transmit as expected. There are also privacy concerns with RFID tags – cyber thieves could scan tags to obtain passenger data.

Despite questions over RFID, early trials of smart luggage tags show promise. Alaska Airlines launched an RFID program in 2018 and has already seen a 60% reduction in lost bags. As the technology improves, RFID tagging is likely to expand. But airlines may need to supplement it with GPS, cellular data connections, or other technologies for full coverage.

Can Passengers Do More To Protect Luggage?

While airlines tackle tracking tech, what can passengers do themselves? Some tips include snapping photos of your bag’s tag number, marking bags clearly with contact info, and carrying valuables or essentials in your carry-on. Using hard-sided luggage also reduces damage compared to soft bags tossed around by baggage handlers.

Travelers should sign up for airline luggage tracking programs when available too. And new “smart suitcases” allow you to weigh bags, charge devices, receive alerts, and even remotely lock bags from your phone. As frustration grows over lost luggage, integrated tech in bags themselves may provide extra security beyond what airlines offer.

The Future of Luggage Tracking

Between RFID, GPS, and cellular capabilities, our ability to locate bags digitally continues getting smarter each year. Airlines are investing seriously in fixing this vexing issue for travelers. And with artificial intelligence on the rise, we may someday see “self-tracking” bags that don’t just transmit signals, but actually contain smarts to proactively communicate, route themselves, interface with airport systems, and reunite themselves with owners using computer vision.