No more lost bags? Delta rolls out better tracking system

By Thom Patterson CNN

ATLANTA (CNN) -- What if tiny radio waves from your luggage could communicate its location to baggage handlers?

Airlines could use that technology to track your bags and prevent them from getting lost or misdirected.

That's the idea behind Delta Air Lines' new program announced Thursday, which uses a technology that's been around for a while called radio frequency identification, aka RFID.

By the end of August, the world's second largest airline will be placing paper RFID tags on passengers' bags at 344 airports, including Atlanta, where Delta is headquartered.

Here's how it works: When you check your bag, it will get an RFID tag instead of the digital bar code tag you usually get.

As bags are loaded onto conveyor belts that roll up into airplane cargo holds, an electronic device reads the radio signal being broadcast from each RFID tag.

It checks the tag against a database to make sure that bag belongs on that flight.

If it doesn't, the system triggers a red light on the conveyor belt and the belt automatically stops, allowing a baggage handler to remove the bag from the belt and re-route the bag to its correct destination.

Another use for this RFID system: If a passenger suddenly has to de-plane and their bags have to be removed from the cargo hold, the device makes it much faster to find the passenger's bags by tracking radio signals in the tags.

Obviously the system promises to save Delta time and money from lost and mis-routed bags.

Most airlines now use simple tags with digital bar codes that don't broadcast any radio signals.

That system has a rate of properly routed bags somewhere around 95%. With RFID tracking, Delta expects that number to hit 99.9%.

Australia's Qantas airline has used RFID to track bags, but Delta says no other carrier has implemented an RFID baggage tracking program with this specific kind of technology on this scale.

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