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Intelligent baggage handling: lightening the load with AI

Published on  15 May by Matthys Serfontein , Vice President, Portfolio & Solutions Management, SITA
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Baggage handling is a gargantuan and complex task for both airlines and airports. With the International Air Transport Association (IATA) predicting that 7.8 billion passengers will take to the skies by 2036, this is going to put an enormous strain on baggage systems. Technology, including artificial intelligence (AI), promises to provide an effective solution.

Driving down mishandling figures

Improvements in technology and operational processes have already cut the industry’s mishandled baggage costs by nearly 50% from $4.22 to $2.1 billion in just a decade. But every lost bag makes for a disillusioned customer, so this figure needs to come down even further.

IATA’s Resolution 753 will generate an enormous amount of rich data that will help drive next generation of baggage handling technology. AI, for example, has the capability to track bags from the point the passenger checks in all the way to their destination without any human intervention.

Smart solutions: RFID

RFID technology is already improving baggage handling. RFID tags can be easily embedded into bag tags and track baggage on their journey in real time.

The tags emit radio waves that can be swiftly and efficiently read via a RFID scanner, putting an end to the problem of unreadable or hidden baggage tags. Take an RFID scanning conveyor belt. It can be programmed to ensure that baggage isn’t loaded onto the wrong flight.

Delta Air Lines says RFID technology has given it a 99.9% accuracy rate in the US. Following its success Stateside, Delta recently confirmed it is rolling out RFID baggage tagging at Heathrow airport in the UK together with airports in France and the Netherlands.

The Fly Delta app keeps travelers informed of their baggage’s movements in real-time. Travelers can also find out which carousel they should pick their baggage up from when they reach their destination.

Taking it a step further: AI

AI can take this a step further, ensuring passengers’ baggage is handled as smoothly as possible. Delta Air Lines is already piloting AI and face recognition for automated, self-service bag check-in kiosks.

AI can help in other areas as well. Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) has been working with the Chinese University of Hong Kong to make baggage trolley shortages a thing of the past. It has come up with an AI powered real time baggage trolley supply system to eliminate the need for manual checking of trolley availability.

In the future, AI-powered video analytics will be able to follow the journey of baggage containers from the airplane to the baggage processing hall, giving passengers an accurate estimate of when their bags will be delivered.

It will provide airports and airlines valuable insight into which routes are most complex for baggage handling and to speed up decision making and increase efficiencies, were problems to occur.

A lead from logistics

Passengers see the way their baggage is handled as a major factor in how they judge airlines and airport quality. With competition increasing in the airline industry, there is significant pressure to continuously improve the process.

The industry can learn much from the value of AI in improving operations by looking at initiatives in the supply chain and logistics industries, where the technology is spreading fast.

For example, DHL is injecting AI into its Resiliance360 supply chain risk management platform to give its customers an early warning sign if there are problems such as strike action. It can then identify any parts of the supply chain that may be at risk. DHL continuously monitors some 8 million sources online and social media to harvest information for this intelligence.

Its competitor Fedex is working on an app for Alexa to streamline the shipping process. And global supply chain specialist CEVA Logistics claims its supply chain now moves 90% faster, thanks to the cognitive capabilities in IBM Watson. It gives the company deep visibility along with real-time contextual search for the lifecycle of every transaction.

An intelligent future for bag tracking

Technology is already changing the baggage handling experience as RFID tagging shows. Building a complete analytical infrastructure will of course take time and will require collaboration between stakeholders.

Over the next decade, however, we will see AI truly transform the business of baggage handling, enabling airports and airlines to provide secure, customized baggage handling services for passengers.

For more

Read SITA's blog, ‘New baggage rules and IT promise to end lost luggage‘.
Discover our new White Paper, ‘Intelligent tracking, a baggage management revolution’.
Download the 2018 Baggage Report.

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