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Lost luggage could be a thing of the past with RFID tags, study says

Lost luggage could be a thing of the past with RFID tags, study says
A Delta Air Lines employee attaches a tag with an embedded radio frequency identification device to luggage at Baltimore–Washington International Airport. The airline plans to operate RFID scanners at 84 airports by the end of the year, including Los Angeles International. (Delta Air Lines)

The days when airlines lose luggage, creating travel headaches for passengers, could be numbered.

Airlines could dramatically reduce the number of bags that are mishandled if they add tiny radio frequency devices to their luggage tags.

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That was the conclusion from a study offered by an airline technology company and an industry trade group. The use of radio frequency identification devices (RFIDs) means luggage could be successfully tracked 99% of the time, saving the airline industry $3 billion over the next seven years, the study said.

Most airlines currently print bar codes on luggage tags. Baggage handlers must point a bar code reader — that device that looks like a space-age laser gun — at the tags to make sure the luggage is getting on the correct plane

The advantage of an RFID is that it emits radio waves that allow a tag to be read by simply passing it near an RFID scanner. A conveyor belt fitted with RFID scanners can be programmed to stop if a bag is headed for the wrong plane.

The study by Geneva-based SITA and the International Air Transport Assn. said the use of RFID tags could reduce the rates of lost luggage by 25%. SITA estimates that the rate of lost luggage has already dropped by 60% over the past seven years.

Delta Air Lines is using the technology at 25 of its major hub airports, with plans to expand it to 84 airports by the end of the year, including at Los Angeles International. At Delta, the tiny radio frequency devices are embedded in the tags that are printed at every Delta airport check-in counter.

Delta spokeswoman Ashton Morrow said the system does not get every single bag to the right place, but it's close.

"It gets us from a 90% accuracy rate to a 99.9% accuracy rate," she said.

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