Lost luggage is every flyer’s worst nightmare. The worst is when airlines admit they don’t know where the bag is. But an array of new services might help track your bags.
According to Scott McCartney of the Wall Street Journal, Airlines are spending millions on new technology to catch up to tracking culture. “American and Delta can now tell you when your bags are loaded and unloaded through their apps. And travelers have options, too, with new luggage location-trackers you pack with your socks and new smart bags that have trackers built in,” writes McCartney.
Airlines world-wide accounted for 23 million pieces of lost or delayed luggage in 2015. Most bags were eventually returned, but not before their disappearance ruined lots of vacations, weddings or business meetings. On average, airlines lose one bag per every flight of 150 people.
Delta Air Lines is the first to switch to all baggage tags embedded with radio-frequency ID (or RFID) chips in the paper—very thin panels about the size of a business card. Your bag broadcasts information to receivers instead of having optical scanners try to read the bar code printed on the tag.
Delta agents are already printing RFID tags, which cost almost 10 cents each compared with a few pennies for a regular paper tag. Delta already has the lowest rates of mishandled bags among the biggest U.S. airlines, and the carrier expects a 10% improvement with RFID tags.
Other airlines are testing a permanent bag tag issued to top customers that can be loaded with a passenger’s information, either for optical scanning or RFID. Qantas, Lufthansa and others have tried devices, about the size of a bagel, that attach to bags and can be programmed for each trip.
JetBlue has 60 prototype tags it will start handing out at the end of this month that can be programmed by the airline’s smartphone app and display a bar code. This eliminates the need for a customer to go to a kiosk to print a paper tag.
Baggage manufacturers, tracking companies and some entrepreneurs are separately bringing out products for travelers who want do-it-yourself tracking. Trakdot and LugLoc are two devices about the size of a wallet that you put in your suitcase. Both connect to cellular towers and can signal their approximate location to you with an app.
Jason Kijek, a frequent traveler who often flies with a lot of connections and has had multiple experiences with bags lost, had a Trakdot in his bag when he checked it from San Francisco to Krakow, Poland, with connections in Philadelphia and London. When he got to Krakow, the bag wasn’t there. Mr. Kijek informed British Airways that his tracker showed it was in Philadelphia, where he’d connected from American Airlines.
The bag got to him within 24 hours. He doesn’t know if it arrived quicker because he knew its location, but he had peace of mind watching the delayed bag fly to London and then arrive in Krakow, where he picked it up without waiting for a phone call from the airline.
“Overall the product works well,” he says.
The trackers have downsides: They require annual service fees, and may not work in absolutely every country. Aaron Liao bought several Trakdot devices, one for each of his bags, and paid for the lifetime tracking service, which made his total cost about $100 per device. (Trakdot no longer offers plans longer than one year.) He figured that was good insurance after an airline lost a suitcase with about $3,000 worth of stuff in it.
When he lands, his devices update their location, confirming his bags are onboard. “I just like knowing if I’m in the same place or not,” he says.
The Bluesmart GPS tracking bag is an early adopter of intelligent luggage features. It can recharge smartphones and other electronics and lock itself when you leave your hotel room. It has a built-in scale, but gives varying weights depending on how you hold the handle. It’ll send your phone a message if you’re leaving it behind—useful for the forgetful, no doubt. The bag can use cellular networks as a backup to get a rough location if it doesn’t get a GPS signal. No subscription is required.
Guillaume Brasseur bought the bag, which has a current list price of $449, and found the GPS tracking to be kind of a gimmick, since the only bag Bluesmart makes so far is carry-on size. He likes the locking function and the charging capability, though he was stopped at airport security in China once while screeners tried to examine the battery built into the bag. “They wanted to cut it open,” the San Francisco-based tech executive says.
Since that early episode, he’s had no problems with airport security. Bluesmart says the bag is compliant with FAA and TSA regulations.
Mr. Brasseur is a fan of the bag, but thinks it has room to improve. Software updates through the app have made it more reliable, he says.
I bought a Bluesmart and checked it on several trips. The bag, like Trakdot and LugLoc, has an accelerometer that turns it off at takeoff as required, but my Bluesmart hasn’t been able to turn itself back on. When I try to use the app to locate the bag, I get a Kafka-esque message saying, “Please awaken your bag” by pressing a button under the handle. If I could do that, I guess I’d know where it was.
Bluesmart’s instructions list only the power button as the way to awaken the bag. The company’s chief executive and co-founder, Diego Saez Gil, says Bluesmart is working on improving the power-up features. He says he began working on the smart bag after family gifts were stolen from his luggage on a trip between New York and Argentina.
The bag launched in 2015 and about 25,000 have sold so far. Mr. Gil says his company is still learning what its users want. Future products will be different sizes and types of bags.
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