Delta Air Lines plans to soon start using baggage tags with RFID technology to track bags more efficiently and accurately.
The idea is to help avoid misdirected bags and give customers a more accurate view of where their baggage is.
Atlanta-based Delta will install the tracking technology on belt loaders at 84 of the airports where it operates, including Atlanta, by the end of August. The new tags look similar to regular paper baggage tags, but have thin RFID (radio frequency identification) chips embedded in them.
Delta already allows customers to track their checked baggage by entering their bag tag number.
But with automated scanners placed in more points along the paths that bags travel, Delta expects the new system to increase the share of properly scanned bags to 99.9 percent, compared with a range in the mid-90s using traditional bar code tags that are manually scanned.
Delta tested the system of RFID tags and scanners on baggage loading belts in Las Vegas and Baltimore, and is now investing more than $50 million to launch the new system.
A bag that is loaded onto the wrong conveyor belt triggers a red light and stops the belt.
Delta's senior vice president of airport customer service Bill Lentsch said passengers will also be able to sign up for alerts that tell them when their bag has been loaded onto the airplane.
Lentsch said the idea is to improve customer service, and he noted, "There's a cost that comes with mishandled bags." Better tracking can help reduce that cost, he said.
The move will also reduce the amount of manual scanning that needs to be done by baggage handlers as they are loading bags, according to Delta.
It's not the first time Delta has studied the possibility of RFID luggage tags. It tested an earlier version of the technology as far back as 2003. And other airlines have also launched different forms of RFID luggage tags, such as reusable RFID bag tags from Australian airline Qantas.