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RFID luggage tags mooted

Airlines claim that the costs are still too high, but admit the benefits could be huge
Written by Andy McCue, Contributor

Ditching bar-coded bag tags for RFID tracking chips could slash the annual $1bn bill for lost passenger baggage, according to airline industry IT body SITA.

A SITA report into the use of RFID by airports claims the use of the tiny tracking chips instead of bar-coded bag tags would reduce errors by baggage handlers from 15 per cent to less than five per cent.

The number of mishandled bags in the US alone rose by more than 10 per cent last year, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

To date, however, there are very few deployments of luggage-tracking RFID tags by airports, with the most high-profile trial taking place at Hong Kong International Airport.

British Airways (BA) currently has no plans to ditch the bar-coded bag tags but a spokesman said it is watching the Hong Kong trial closely with the potential use of the RFID tags at the new Terminal Five at Heathrow in mind.

"In the future we think airlines will move towards radio frequency tags, which are easier and quicker to track and can be placed anywhere on a bag. On the rare occasions where bags don't make a flight with a customer, this sort of technology should allow us to tell a customer earlier in the process and keep them better informed about when their bags will arrive," he said.

The British Airports Authority (BAA) also welcomed the use of RFID to help cut the number of lost bags but said significant obstacles to mainstream deployment still remain.

A BAA spokeswoman said: "One of the problems is the affordability. The cost is one of the biggest barriers. The cost per tag needs to be less than 10 cents and it's nowhere near that now."

Both BAA and BA also argued that in order to match passengers up with lost bags the RFID handling systems would need to be installed in every baggage system at every airport in the world.

"It's no good if not all airports use it," said the BAA spokeswoman, who added that BAA currently has no plans to trial or deploy RFID tags at any of its airports.

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