Atlanta –  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.
By the end of August 2016, the world’s second largest airline will be placing paper RFID tags on passengers’ bags at 344 airports, including Atlanta, where Delta is headquartered.
Delta is deploying Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) baggage tracking technology, a first for U.S. carriers, providing  customers  with improved real-time tracking of luggage throughout the travel experience.

This move marks a historic shift for Delta and the 120 million bags it handles annually.  RFID will replace barcode hand scanning – the industry standard since the early 90s. With this new technology, scanners use radio waves to capture highly accurate and consistent data stored on an RFID chip embedded in the luggage tag, driving superior tracking and increased transparency.

With RFID, customers will see their bags on and off the aircraft during their journey via push notifications to the Fly Delta mobile app beginning in the fourth quarter of 2016.

“With a $50 million investment in RFID at 344 stations around the globe, we aim to reliably deliver every bag on every flight,” said Bill Lentsch, Delta’s Senior Vice President – Airport Customer Service and Cargo Operations. “This innovative application of technology gives us greater data and more precise information throughout the bag’s journey.”

Initial deployments of RFID integrated throughout the baggage process show that bags are tracked at a 99.9 percent success rate, ensuring proper routing and loading.

For customers, RFID means much more than just consistent baggage handling.

“In the same way that customers want information at their fingertips about flight changes, we know our customers want clear visibility to their checked bags,” said Tim Mapes, Delta’s Chief Marketing Officer. “Delta’s industry-first baggage tracking app was a good first step. RFID will allow us to set a new standard for more transparent, interactive tracking on the Fly Delta mobile app.”

Delta teams have deployed 4,600 scanners, installed 3,800 RFID bag tag printers and integrated 600 pier and claim readers to enable hands-free scanning of baggage throughout the handling process. RFID will soon track bags on all Delta mainline and Delta Connection flights.

Spread throughout 84 of Delta’s largest stations, 1,500 belt loaders will give baggage the green light – literally – as it enters and exits the belly of a plane. The belt loader sensor will flash green when the bag is being loaded on the correct aircraft or red when the bag requires additional handling.

Today when a customer misses his or her connection, agents on the ground manually scan each bag to find the customer’s luggage and ensure it is retagged for the new flight. With RFID scanners, agents have the ability to take inventory quickly or pinpoint a single bag.

“We’ve put every part of our process for baggage handling under the microscope and evolved it to the point of industry-leading performance,” Lentsch said. “RFID will give Delta people a great tool to further widen the gap between us and our competitors”.

Better baggage handling processes and enhanced technology have already shrunk the airline’s mishandled bag rates by 68 percent over the past 10 years, establishing Delta as the leading U.S.-based global airline for baggage performance. 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.