Luggage and the airport experience are very important in air travel. The process is that each bag that travels in the hold of an aircraft must have a bag tag containing barcodes carrying information showing the destination of the bag and scheduled flights. These then travel through the baggage system at the airport where they are loaded onto a cart to be delivered to the aircraft.
In an airport where passengers complained about the long wait time before collecting their luggage, measurements were taken of time taken for certain events after the plane had come to a final stop – Time for the motorised cart to get to the plane, time to take out the first bag and the last bag from the cargo hold, time to move to baggage hall and time for first bag and last bag to be taken at the carousel. This data analysed over many flights helped get to the root cause of baggage delays.
It is a lot of work to get bags from check-in to the aircraft, then off the plane to a baggage hall conveyor belt. This is especially so in a busy airport and it is to a large extent hidden from view. Large airports use some form of an automated Baggage Handling System. It involves taking tagged bags from check-in to a loading or storage area using, and usually very large, systems of conveyors and deflectors. Modern systems also incorporate baggage screening for customs and detection of explosives.
Innovations are beginning to take place in baggage systems at airports. Some of them are RFID tags, trials of automated baggage carts and robotic loading systems. RFID baggage tags are being put in place to replace barcodes.
The ground handler operating the baggage carts typically waits until all of the bags have arrived to save making multiple journeys. But with each automated baggage cart, known as dolly, which are able to operate independently, they can go to the appropriate aircraft. The dollies have memorised the airport and can tell which route to take to reach the appropriate gate. With the aid of artificial intelligence, they also work out which route will be quickest. In doing so they do not have to follow a predetermined route. The vehicles are also emission free. There are still safety concerns with this innovation that should not escape the airlines and airports. The vehicles are free of emissions – helping to reach the goal of carbon reduction.
Robotic luggage systems will leverage robots so as to automate the baggage picking and loading process. This will lead to a reduction in the chance of human error, minimise loss and damage as well as reduce the time required to load and unload aircraft. While it will reduce manual processes, the airports in Russia implementing this innovative process expect that it will give airports room to cut costs due to less risk and delays. The robot is also capable of reading barcodes and deciding on where exactly to put luggage.
Each airline has its own baggage allowance policy which states the number of bags allowed, their weight and size restrictions. This information can be checked on the ticket or website of the airline. Checking before travel prevents surprises or additional fees at the airport. Some customers who do not check airline baggage allowance, especially for low cost carriers, would leave the airport not feeling happy with their baggage experience.
Also passengers should hold their baggage tags received during check-in and not lose or mutilate them so that they retrieve the correct bags. Some airports in Africa still have manual matching of your tags with your bag to ensure that the traveller is leaving the airport with the correct bag.
Where baggage is lost or damaged or delayed, the traveller should immediately contact the office of the airline that deals with baggage services. This is where travel insurance which covers lost or damaged luggage is a good idea as it provides additional protection.
While airports and airlines are innovating to improve the passenger experience in many areas that include baggage handling, the traveller is advised to follow the guidelines regarding luggage size, weight and prohibited items for a positive passenger experience.