RFID Key to Solving Bag-Handling Crisis

Radio frequency identification tags could be the answer to baggage glitches at Heathrow's new Terminal 5, and save the industry $700 million a year

As Heathrow Terminal Five (T5) recovers from go-live glitches in its baggage handling systems, air travel IT specialist Sita has released research showing 42.4 million bags are lost in airports across the world.

According to the fourth annual Sita Baggage Report, RFID is a key technology for solving baggage handling headaches, estimated to be costing the global air travel industry $3.8bn a year. It said RFID bag tagging could make the industry a saving of $700m a year.

Sita CEO Fransesco Volante said in a statement: "It is important that we continue to move towards a comprehensive, fully integrated global baggage management system that can direct, track and trace passenger baggage throughout the entire journey."

Baggage mishandling was the largest cause of delay in reuniting passengers with their luggage (49 per cent of cases). Historically, this is an improvement, down from 61 per cent of cases in 2005.

However, a spokesman for British Airways, the major stakeholder in T5, cast doubt on the efficacy of RFID tagging as a solution to baggage handling problems at the present time.

He said: "RFID hasn't been trialled on any systems large enough to equate with baggage handling on a global scale. Barcoding is being used and it works. At T5, the problem wasn't with the luggage tags. BA will watch with interest the development of RFID but for the moment we will continue to use barcodes on our baggage tags, which—with a modern system—is very effective for baggage being checked-in at an airport."