Delta added a map feature to its mobile app this week that will give fliers real-time updates and geographic coordinates as their bag is shepherded to their intended destination. It will inform passengers that the bag made it onto the plane before take off and where to retrieve it at baggage claim upon arrival.
Delta began sticking radio-frequency identification, or RFID, tags on its customers’ checked luggage earlier this year. They allow the luggage to be automatically scanned at several points during the handling process, from when it’s first taken at the counter to when it’s loaded on a carousel at the destination. In between, the bag is scanned as it is placed onto a tarmac shuttle, loaded onto the plane, and rerouted during a transfer.
The addition to the Fly Delta mobile app is the latest example of airlines using technology to tackle the industry’s major logistical hurdles and improve customer satisfaction. Moving millions of passengers and thousands of airplanes through the sky each day is no simple task, and critics are quick to point out even the slightest hitch in operations.
“From the moment our customers drop off their bag, we want them to know we’re looking out for it every step of the way and working to take the stress out of flying one innovation at a time,” Bill Lentsch, Delta’s senior vice president of airline operations and airport customer service, said in a news release.
But what if your bag doesn’t make it? The app will tell you that, too. A Delta spokeswoman said you can contact customer service from the plane, using in-flight WiFi, to rectify the situation while still soaring at 30,000 feet. The app won’t make resolving the problem easier, per se, but it will let you get started sooner.
That’s not to say the RFID technology won’t prevent lost luggage. The scanning process alerts airline employees when a bag is being loaded onto the wrong flight, and helps them find a specific piece of luggage faster when it needs to be removed from the plane’s storage hold. In short, it helps eliminate some of the human error that often mucks up the works.
Delta has implemented the RFID scanning technology at 25 of the 84 largest airports in the United States where it operates. It plans to expand to the others in the coming months. A spokeswoman said the company anticipates a 10 percent improvement in its “mishandled baggage” rate as a result of the technology. The International Air Transport Association released a report earlier this month that said the global airline industry could reduce mishandled baggage 25 percent by 2022 and save $3 billion if RFID technology was universal.
The Department of Transportation reported this month that Delta’s “mishandled baggage” rating for August put the carrier in the middle of the pack among U.S. airlines. About 29,000 passengers out of the 10.7 million passengers who took domestic flights on Delta that month reported “lost, damaged, delayed or pilfered baggage.” That translates to roughly to 2.72 reports per 1,000 passengers, the report shows. (Delta’s figure for August may have been negatively impacted by a massive computer outage that month, a spokeswoman noted.) That beats the industry average of 3.15 reports per 1,000 passengers.
Read more from The Washington Post’s Innovations section.