Home Transport engineering How luggage transport and tracking works at airports

How luggage transport and tracking works at airports

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Loading of Luggage to airplane

Traveling is becoming more and more widespread among the population worldwide, and it is logical, because it enriches the mood and fills us with unforgettable experiences and images … Or at least if everything goes well, because in the good memory or not that leaves us a trip will also have much to do the airport and our experience in it, and one of the worst things that can happen is certainly the loss of a suitcase, something relatively common.

Phases and steps of the baggage system at an airport

The baggage handling system of an airport is one of the most complex processes within the planning of an airport, airport technology consulting companies devote much time to the study of this complex section within the logistics and mobility within an airport. Baggage transport is one of the priority functions that take place at the airport, since not only the proper classification and redistribution of each user’s luggage and their degree of satisfaction depend on its proper functioning, but also the prestige of the airport itself, which is fundamental, among other things, for the different airlines that fly over our skies to decide to stop at some airports and not others.

But, what is necessary in the system of classification and distribution of baggage between one airport and another for it to work well? First of all, to achieve an efficient system capable of moving luggage in the same amount of time that each user’s journey from departure to destination takes. This means that if the baggage system is slower, travelers will end up piling up at departures with long waits and delays that will only generate frustration and dissatisfaction. But neither can the transfer of baggage be too fast, as this would also create logistical problems with baggage arriving before its respective owners.

However, while sorting and moving luggage at an airport from one destination to another may seem relatively straightforward, the truth is that it involves many steps that travelers do not usually see, but without which both check-in and baggage delivery would be almost impossible. Let’s take a look at some of these major invisible tasks:

  • Baggage screening process at security checkpoint
  • Baggage labeling, control and classification process.
  • Baggage transfer from check-in to the boarding gate.
  • Baggage transfer from one gate to another during transfers.
  • Transfer of baggage from the arrival gate to the baggage claim area.

Generally, especially at larger airports, such transfers are done automatically via conveyor belts, also with the help of switches and bar code readers.

Check-in station

The origin of these conveyor belts is at the check-in counter, where the airport operator registers our luggage with our names. Then, this worker is also in charge of locating our complete travel itinerary, as well as printing the appropriate labels for each bag we carry and want to check in.
And what information do these labels contain? Well, everything related to our flight, including the final destination of our trip or possible stopovers. All this information will be present on the labels in the form of a ten-digit barcode, and each bag must have a unique code.

People with suitcase in the airport

Conveyor belts

Once the bags have been properly checked in, after the check-in process, the baggage continues its journey along the conveyor belts, where a system composed of automatic barcode readers will scan the baggage for each flight.
The conveyor belt route is very complex and very similar to a road system in a large city, although it is the information provided by the bar code that makes the process of moving the luggage along the traveler’s itinerary to its final destination easier.

Suitcases in conveyor belt in the airport

Arrival at destination

The collection of luggage at the end of the trip is managed by the conveyor belt that delivers the luggage to the passengers, a point to which they are previously taken once they have been unloaded from the aircraft, thanks to special loading platforms. And once again, the label is responsible for ensuring that the delivery route is correct. Although this is a highly sophisticated process, there can also be errors, such as when the automatic baggage recognition system fails and the bag must then be identified manually. When this is not possible, either because the label has an error, cannot be read correctly or for some other reason, the baggage would be taken to the lost luggage area.
Therefore, reducing and preventing the misuse of baggage custody at the airport will help reduce the possibility of errors and fraud, better detect problems, speed up the preparation of each flight, and improve passenger experience and safety.

State-of-the-art baggage tracking technology

As we can see, the logistics of an airport with respect to baggage is very intricate and highly complex, and in it the automatic systems used will be of vital importance to be able to act at the right times and offer the traveler a service of the highest quality. Such advanced baggage tracking systems (laser code readers, radio frequency, camera technology, optical character recognition…) allow airports and also airlines to accurately track baggage from the point of check-in, both on and off the aircraft, with fast and accurate data on bags as they move through the automated systems in place. This valuable information also enables airlines to provide baggage information to their travelers, which undoubtedly gives users added security and confidence.
In this regard, some data models (such as ACI’s ACRIS) are specialized in ensuring communication between parties, data quality, consistency in nomenclature, semantics and security, which is the most important thing. In addition, both ACI and IATA have actively collaborated in this initiative to exchange baggage data and information (“Baggage XML”), thus facilitating the custody process between airports and airlines.
When the technology chosen for baggage management is approached in a unified manner by airlines and airports, as well as by other stakeholders such as the users themselves, a great deal of collaboration is created that allows better solutions to be offered to any problems that may arise in accordance with the regulations in force. Therefore, working and researching on the improvement of these systems is not a trivial matter considering the increase in the number of travelers every year, as baggage losses leave a very bad taste in the mouths of travelers, in addition to losses in the millions, tarnishing at the same time the image of the airports and the companies involved.

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