Heathrow to trial RFID tags
No more lost luggage?
In September, Heathrow Airport will become the largest in Europe to trial RFID-based tags for tracking passenger luggage, comparing accuracy and read rates against their existing barcode-based systems.
Radio Frequency Identification tags are a throw-away technology which can be embedded in the labels attached to luggage on check-in, and then read from a distance of a metre or so (depending on the technology) as the luggage makes its way around the world - sometimes even to the same destination as the passenger.
Using RFID is more expensive than printed labels, but savings should come from being able to automatically read the labels as the bags pass by, and update the information stored on the tag without recourse to a central database.
The International Air Transport Association reckons RFID will save airlines £400m a year, though some of that will be offset by the higher costs.
Heathrow won't be drawn on those costs as yet. The details of technologies and suppliers won't be public until the official launch of the trial in September. ®
Nothing new here
RFID tags only do what the existing bar coded tags do. The only justification for using them is if they improve the accuracy and reliability of reading them as they pass through the baggage sortation (I know that's a hideous word but it's the one they use) systems - at both ends of the flight. Which is one reason why implementing them in one airport only is of limited value (not completely valueless in a major transfer airport like Heathrow).
Most airlines are still very reluctant to spend the money on these systems as they are yet to be convinced that there is any substantial improvement over bar codes to justify the investment.
My favorite tags
I hope this doesn't sound like an advertisement, but I'd like to share some information about the tags I use. Global Bag Tags don't display any of your personal information, only an id number. All of your information, including your travel itinerary, is stored on their database. Give them a look and see what you think.
KLM have done this for a while
OK, so they don't have the best record for lost luggage but KLM have been sending their Flying Blue loyalty card holders luggage tickets with embedded RFID tags for a year or so. Touch wood, I've had my luggage turn up at the intended time and destination without fail since putting this into my hold baggage (8 trips so far, compared to luggage going 'astray' on 2 out of 12 flights last year)