Airport logistics and the concurrent planning truth behind baggage handling

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Travelling is my ultimate passion. Even when it’s just a quick trip, setting up a routine in a different city or country helps me to think out-of-the-box as different cultures can have very different aspects of daily living. Walking in the streets of a new city is a perfect workout for my brain as it helps me quickly become familiar with my surroundings and have the full experience. I’ve been travelling as much as I can, wherever possible. I have to say though, if you like travelling, you have to like being in airports and you must be willing to deal with the complex services structure it provides -- which starts and ends with your baggage.

As a self-identified traveler I am in love with airports and airport logistics

The fact that most international airports are busy with an influx of people carrying their bags and belongings, all in rush to wait in long  check-in and security lines, makes people watching an experience to observe! Of course, this is not a coincidence, airports have very complex operational structures to sustain the movement of high volumes of passengers. Airport Operations Management is an industry on its own that employs around 1.2 million people just in the US. On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, European airports is employing around 12.3 million people, contributing to the continent’s economy by generating € 675 billion in GDP each year. About a month ago I spent some time waiting for a flight at Istanbul Airport, which is reputed to be the world’s biggest international hub. Built on 76.5 million square meters, the airport has the potential to accommodate 200 million passengers per year once all phases are complete. While waiting in a relatively long check-in line to drop off my baggage for the flight, I started to think about how all of the baggage ends up at the right destination after all the connecting flights complete. As someone who works in supply chain, it didn’t take me long to start looking into the domain of Baggage Handling Systems to understand how the whole concept works. I was particularly amazed by the following video, to "see the world" from the perspective of a piece of luggage!

The concept of concurrent planning is helping improve the travel experience

Baggage handling is not an easy process by any means. It requires a very sophisticated method of concurrent planning to organize, process and properly route approximately 2 billion pieces of luggage per year. If not planned efficiently, it could cost the industry billions of dollars and create a high level of inconvenience for passengers. Despite perceptions, only 0.6% of the bags carried by airlines were mishandled (in 2018), which shows the level of robustness of the standards and systems in place.

Just like any other industry, Airport Operations Management is improving with the help of technological innovations so that current challenges can be tackled. One current domain of focus by International Air Transport Association (IATA) is to bring more visibility to the phases baggage pass through during the journey from passenger check-in to final destination. Resolution 753, introduced in June 2018, is the IATA’s industry standard protocol to track baggage more accurately and reduce errors throughout the lifecycle. Resolution 753 (aka IATA R753) makes sure that a baggage is tracked through four key points (passenger check-in, loading to the aircraft, delivery to the transfer area, and the arrival point) in overall through RFID technology. Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is a key technique for the application and implementation of Resolution 753 as it provides significant benefits over the traditional barcode technology.

  • Concurrent Tracking - Compared to the use of barcodes, which seems to have 60 percent read rates, RFID is a game changer as it requires less costly hardware and higher read rates, as high as 99.8%.
  • Automated Check-ins and Faster Aircraft Loading - As RFID provides better automation planning, it also eases the process of loading and off-loading baggage, along with an easier self check-in experience for passengers.
  • Improved Data Consistency - RFID technology provides error correction capabilities, which allows the overall data to be collected in a more consistent manner compared to barcodes, which as static and often challenging to read and process.

Along with other benefits like improving the airport security and utilizing technology to track other processes within the airports, RFID is helping the industry to have a more efficient way of handling the baggage. This does come with potential challenges however, such as the concerns over keeping the industry’s data safe. But overall, the transition cost of required hardware for airports and airlines (and monetization of passengers’ personal data) the implementation of IATA R753 along with RFID improves the efficiency of luggage handling operations, helping the industry become more efficient by keeping baggage errors to a minimum. Although I felt quite a bit of excitement researching Airport Logistics, when it comes to travelling I am an impatient passenger. Getting my luggage at the end of a long trip with long hours of flights is very relieving. And witnessing significant improvements to luggage handling services will be a reassuring feeling on future trips and vacations.

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- December 31, 2019 at 9:00am

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