Sun, Jun 05, 2005 - Page 11 News List

Radio tags could singal an end to missing luggage

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

Tiny radio transmitters could provide a solution to a frustration familiar to thousands of holidaymakers every summer -- the missing suitcase.

British Airways has thrown its weight behind an initiative to scrap the familiar black and white destination stickers fixed to every bag by check-in staff.

Instead, the airline wants to fix a hi-tech tracking device to bags, thereby allowing staff to monitor its location anywhere in the world.

BA's chief executive, Rod Eddington, is chairman of a strategy committee set up by IATA, the international airlines' body, to develop the technology.

"One of the challenges in this industry is bags," Eddington said. "How do you make sure, when a bag goes missing, that it is reunited with its owner as soon as possible? The latest technology is a little chip which can be identified far more reliably than the barcodes we've used traditionally."

Airlines are as anxious as passengers to tackle the problem, as each lost bag costs carriers an average of US$100.

BA has been particularly sensitive about lost bags since it misplaced 11,000 pieces of luggage in one disastrous week last summer, hit by bad weather and staff shortages.

Trials are under way at Tokyo's Narita airport and on flights between the Netherlands and Paris. The US Transportation Security Authority is also working on a feasibility study with United Airlines.

The paper tags currently used by airlines have a barcode which designates their destination and ownership. But according to IATA, as many as 20 percent to 30 percent of the codes are read inaccurately by computers -- sometimes simply because they are upside down.

The Association of European Airlines, which represents national flag carriers, said 1.08 million bags went missing across Europe in the first three months of this year, equivalent to 14 bags per 1,000 passengers.

British Airways ranked 22nd out of 25 airlines, losing 18 bags per 1,000. KLM was the worst, losing 22 bags per 1,000, while Swiss International only lost 10 per 1,000.

The low-cost airline Ryanair claims to be the best performer, losing just one in a thousand bags.

But rivals point out that its passengers are generally on short trips, carrying less luggage. The Irish airline also refuses to offer connections, which are often the point at which bags are lost.

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