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Baggage tracking: four airline implementation strategies

Published on  07 June by Andrew Price , Head, Global Baggage Operations, IATA
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With IATA’s Resolution 753 on baggage tracking now in effect, many IATA Member Airlines are well on their way to implementing tracking, and some have yet to start. From IATA’s perspective, it is not so much about the deadline but the way in which baggage tracking is implemented by airlines, with a focus on the most effective and cost-efficient approach.

If you are an airline starting to plan your implementation, you should consider looking at the various implementation models that are emerging. Some are more popular than others, but there is no set rule on the best approach. Each airline’s way of implementing baggage tracking will be unique and will vary according to the airline’s strategy on hubs, networks and partnership.

So, what are the most widely used approaches? Based on the feedback received from airlines that are able to track bags today, IATA has identified four.

Four common approaches 

Hub focus

Airlines that focus on their hub start by designing an implementation plan relevant for their hub. The airline will highlight processes and methods that they use, or anticipate using, at the four tracking points. This will allow them to have a complete picture for their tracking at the hub.

Then, they review and analyze their capability of exchanging data at their hub with interline partners and involved stakeholders. Finally, airlines move to the final phase. This consists of actually installing any necessary infrastructure and setting up message distribution to interline partners.

Once airlines go through the successful experience of implementing baggage tracking at their hub, they use the lessons learnt to set the strategy for other hubs and the rest of the outstations in their network.

This approach allows the airline to focus on their biggest operation which often is associated with the highest volume of mishandled bags. 

Locations with mishandling issues

Airlines focus first on locations with mishandling issues, placing priority on developing baggage implementation plans at the stations where the volume of mishandled bags is the highest, regardless of the operational size. An example would be the airline’s top five mishandling rate stations.  

This can easily be found through reports available in WorldTracer, for instance. Combining the arrival and transfer data captured at the hub, with the load data and mishandling volumes from outstations, can give a useful insight into common mishandling issues – such as baggage loading segregation failures, where transfer and arrivals bags are mixed in a common container.

This approach helps airlines tackle the problematic stations first and start seeing reductions in their number of mishandled bags.

The list of stations by mishandling volume is dynamic, but the airlines following this strategy are able to move down the list until their network is entirely capable of tracking bags, developing the tools that use the tracking data to reduce mishandling as they move down the list.

Combined hub and network

Of course, where resources allow an airline can take a big bang approach and tackle their hub(s) and the network simultaneously.

For the hub plan, it is recommended to follow the hub strategy (as outlined above). For the network plan, it is advisable to conduct the following activities:

  • Contact all the outstations to understand the situation regarding baggage tracking at each location
  • Identify gaps in meeting the requirements of Resolution 753 for each location
  • Get involved in the appropriate local forum to discuss baggage issues (for example, Airline Operators’ Committee (AOC), and Local Baggage Committee (LBC)
  • Review existing agreements between airlines, alliance partners when applicable, ground handler(s) and airport(s) related to baggage tracking

This approach allows the implementation of baggage tracking in a shorter period of time and enables similar strategies to be deployed across several stations simultaneously. The key determinants for the strategic groupings will depending on the airport infrastructure available such as:

  • Fully automated baggage processes (for example, Baggage Handling System (BHS), Baggage Reconciliation System (BRS) and in some cases a Baggage Management System (BMS)
  • Semi-automated baggage processes (for example, an automated BHS or BRS)
  • Manual processes (for example, limited infrastructure)

Airport-driven implementation

In some instances, airlines may rely on airports to drive implementation of baggage tracking. This is especially true in situations where an airport has many carriers. In this instance an Airport Operators’ Committee (AOC) may provide common use facilities.

This strategy might also be convenient for those airlines that have a small operational volume in a specific station and prefer to follow the airport’s plan.

This approach works best for individual stations where airports have existing infrastructure or plans in place to track bags and have the capability to exchange tracking data through baggage information messages and reports.

Despite major differences, all of these strategies are based on three common factors:

  • The scale of the airline’s operations
  • The systems already available
  • The specificities of each airport location that the airline flies to

But as I said at the start, it is all about the way in which baggage tracking is implemented by airlines, with an eye on the most effective and cost-efficient approach.

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