US Airways Makes Further Strides in Baggage Handling with Planeside Scanning

Last year, I wrote about how US Airways had started scanning bags at planeside. When I was in Phoenix with the airline recently, I decided to stop in and get an update on how things were going. They’ve made a lot of progress since then, and there are some exciting new developments.

US Airways has long had bag problems (remember Philly back before the merger?) but they’ve been achieving record low mishandling bag rates in recent months. Most of this can be attributed to an improved system. US Airways now scans bags when the come on and off airplanes at every airport with the exception of a couple European stations due to technical issues. This now also applies to US Airways Express flights.

When the bag is scanned, the information is sent to a central system and there are real-time monitoring systems, built from scratch by US Airways, that make things run smoothly. I saw the system, but they weren’t willing to let me post a screenshot since it’s proprietary.

You can watch this system from a desktop or from the scanner itself. It shows for every flight how many bags have been checked in and how many bags have been loaded onboard. If a big is missing, you can click on it and see where it was last scanned. It has the person’s name, the tag number, etc. If you’re in the hub waiting for it to connect, then you can have it tracked down immediately. Since it’s in real-time, it’s easy to see the problem bags.

When I was sitting there, we looked at a flight heading to Mexico City. It had 173 bags planned, with the split between local and connecting bags shown as well. As bags are checked in, they show up on the screen. As they are loaded on the plane, that gets recorded as well. This is also used for bags that are checked at the gate, so now all bags will be loaded into the system.

As we sat there, I noticed that there was one bag from one person that was loaded and the other was not. I asked aloud about that – was it lost? Within just a minute, that bag had been loaded as well and it clicked off. Very cool.

The system is also tied in to the baggage tracking system NetTracer that’s used when you file a mishandled bag claim so it makes it easier to get information. What’s next? They’ll be automating more of the mishandled bag claim system, but more importantly, they’re talking about notifications.

Eventually, you’ll be able to get a notification when your bag is loaded or possibly if it doesn’t get loaded. This is fantastic for setting expectations. If your bag is loaded, you’ve got peace of mind and you’re happy. If it’s not, you’re unhappy but at least you know. You’ll also no longer need to sit and wait at the carousel, hoping that yours will be the last bag out. Instead, you can file a claim right away and be on your way.

Great stuff from the US Airways people here.

35 Responses to US Airways Makes Further Strides in Baggage Handling with Planeside Scanning

  1. This is fantastic. The funny thing is, I would wager >95% of all passengers who see a bar code on their luggage tag assume all airlines have been doing this for years.

    • JoeyZap says:

      I’ve been told by USAir that my bag from PHL to SEA would not be transferred to JNU on Alaska Air because of policies that bags had to be offloaded at SEA, picked up and then I’d have to go through TSA at SEA after checking bag in at Alaska Air. I though that USAir could check bag for JNU and just transfer at SEA to Alaska Air. Does anyone know the story or can end this confusion. I’m 70 and handicapped and can’t be going in and out to carousel – don’t mind paying bag fee at SEA for Alaska Air to JNU, but is there a way to not have bags when I do the 6 hour lay-over? Thanks for info and clarification.

      • CF says:

        JoeyZap – US Airways does have a baggage agreement with Alaska so they should be able to check the bags through. But if you’re on a 6 hour layover, I wonder if that might be the issue. Domestically, connections are capped at 4 hours, so it might just be too far in advance.

        • Hrm. I’ve had JetBlue through check luggage through when I had a 13 hour layover in JFK. (on purpose, twas better than a 3 hour layover, I hopped the train and enjoyed a day in the city.. Then almost missed my flight over to SEA..)

          JoeyZap, the six hour layover might be the issue though — I’d recommend working it from Alaska’s end. Ideally US Airways will just punt the luggage to them as soon as its unloaded. Alaska is really big at SEA, and I’d bet they have the bag room to handle it..

  2. DGS says:

    UA should have merged with US just for that alone. :)

    I wonder if the other airlines are working on something similar, or if US ever plans to sell this tech to them…

  3. SEAN says:

    Fasinating.

  4. Oliver says:

    What took them so long? Which (missing) technology prevented them until now from accomplishing this? Seems pretty basic (considering that UPS and Fedex have been doing similar things for shipments for years). Maybe it was just a matter of priorities and budgets?

    Do you know if they have any plans to switch to RFID to make scanning easier/faster?

    • CF says:

      Yes, it had to be a matter of priorities and budgets. Every airline would love to do this, but it’s not that simple. As for RFID, I don’t think it’s cheap enough to be viable yet. Maybe some day.

  5. Ed Casper says:

    Innovations usually comes from those who are having problems. If things are going well, there’s no reason to find better ways to do things. Good for US Airways. Maybe they’re not quite as bad as all the naysayers want to believe. Maybe perception lags reality.

    • CF says:

      Certainly the “perception lags reality” argument is what US Airways is saying to everyone. Their performance is greatly improved, that’s for sure, but a brand like US Airways takes quite a while to turn around.

  6. Dan says:

    This system is far ahead of what UA had when I worked for their Express affiliate almost a decade ago (2001-2002.) Back then, the system they had wasn’t real time, and the data from the “scan guns” was uploaded every hour or so. And all we had from it was a record of “last scan” in Apollo, UA’s res system.

    But this is cool. And if it’s done right (that is, every bag actually gets scanned, not just having a policy that says every bag gets scanned, and yes, there is a difference) this can be a massive time saver as has been said.

    One real issue I forsee with this are passengers who are notified that their bags don’t get loaded. We’ve all seen/heard examples of passengers who over-react/violently react to news they don’t like. I can very easily forsee a situation where someone has just boarded a flight to MIA to catch their cruise ship, and boom, here comes the notification that their bags weren’t boarded for their flight. “Disappointed” isn’t the word I would use to describe those feelings.

    I can see an argument that goes along the lines of “well, under the current system, passengers still wouldn’t have their bags when they get on the cruise ship.” I guess the difference here is with the later, the milk has already been spilled and watching as the milk is getting spilled. Emotionally, they are two very different processes.

    Which leads me to wonder if the next step with a system like this is to gather some information at booking about the nature of the trip. Is the passenger heading to a cruise, where mishandling the bag would be disastrous? Granted, I don’t know if it’s practical to inconvenience an entire planeload of people for the benefit of a couple, but at the same time, if you are *certain* you’ve missed bags, what do you do with this information? Say sorry, tough you-know-what?

    • CF says:

      It’s a good point, and I would assume this is what they’re going to consider before they decide to actually implement negative notifications like that. Still, in my eyes, information is power. I’d rather know that my bag isn’t coming with me in advance. I can certainly understand the air rage potential though.

      • Dan says:

        I see things the same way. But I don’t see why US is considering NOT telling people their bags have been loaded if they have the means to do so. If their baggage scanners are scanning 100% of the bags and notifying passengers that their bags have been loaded, then lack of positive notification is the same as negative notification.

        It’s like applying for jobs — if they are interested, they WILL call you. You don’t necessarily need a rejection letter to KNOW they aren’t interested.

      • David M says:

        Perhaps the answer is a “passive” notification system. Rather than actively sending out emails or text messages stating that the bag is/isn’t on the plane, they could make this sort of information available via the website. When you log in and view your reservation, you’ll see the status of your bags, similar to a FedEx package tracking showing each scan (checkin, loaded onto plane, offloaded, loaded to connecting flight, etc). It could also show the status of a mishandled bag (e.g. scheduled to fly on/loaded onto flight 123, available for pickup/delivery, etc).

        With a web based system available to all their passengers, they could also offer a premium service with email/text message status updates for a small fee (probably per reservation), or free to their elite frequent flyers.

  7. Sounds good to me and all airlines should do this. If the grocery store can scan everything each customer buys and keep track of it, no reason the airlines can’t scan each bag and keep track of it.

    Now will they delay a flight if it shows a bag was checked in and not scanned onto any plane at the same airport….no.

    With all the codesharing going on it would be nice if each alliance partner did this, that would really help.

  8. Ron says:

    Great system. Now, I assume this system only tracks bags that accompany people on flights, not bags that have been returned to the airline for repair after they have been damaged, right? :-)

    Your post prompted me to send the following reminder email to US Airways central baggage resolution: “I’m writing to check on the situation of my damaged suitcase. Following your email of January 25, 2010 (quoted below) I turned in my suitcase at Long Beach airport on the same day. It was accepted and I was told to wait for either a repair or a replacement. Three and a half months have passed, and I haven’t heard a word. I would appreciate you checking into the matter.”

    We’ll see what they say.

  9. yo says:

    Good stuff, US is doing a lot of things right these days, if they could just cull their angry entitlement mentality folk that they inherited from the merge, they really could move forward and run as a fully integrated, merged airline (hear that east pilots?)

  10. Cranky, how are the scanners connected into the rest of the system? Wifi? Edge? 3G? some combo of the three?

  11. Robert says:

    Kudos to USAirways, but Delta’s been doing just this for quite some time. The bag can be tracked all the way through the system and the passenger can be told the status of their bag by any agent, by calling, and even online after they file a claim.

  12. Amazing. For all the flack that US gets, they’re actually the one legacy carrier I don’t mind flying with for my domestic US travels. They’re not the newest and shiniest but the few times I’ve flown with them in the past few years always left me with a good feeling as opposed to UA and CO.

  13. “Great stuff from the US Airways people here . . . ”

    If by “great,” you mean “long, long overdue,” I agree.

  14. Jean says:

    My concern would be how this works when a bag is stolen from the carousel. If they scanned the bag when it came off the airplane, proving that it arrived at the airport, but someone stole it as it came out of the chute onto the carousel, what happens? Do they say that they got it to the airport so not their problem? Or do they accept responsibility for making sure that the right bag gets to the right person? I’d be interested in hearing about any claims which arrise in a situation similar to this one.

    • CF says:

      Well, that is a good question. If people are stealing bags, you’re probably in Philly. But I’m not sure how liability would work.

  15. mirabella says:

    Please amend your last comment, “If people are stealing bags, you’re probably
    in Philadelphia,” to “If people are stealing bags, you’re probably in Phoenix.”
    On November 2, 2009, Phoenix law enforcement charged Phoenix residents
    Stacy and Keith King with theft of thousands of passenger bags from Sky Harbor
    airport. Is this a case of perception lagging reality?

  16. Linda says:

    I just got back from a flight where I was on US Airways thru Phoenix and they destroyed my luggage. I have filed a claim and I’m waiting to see how it turns out. This was a brand new piece of luggage, first flight for it.

    I just want them to replace it and I’m good. Any suggestions?

    • CF says:

      I would just go through the regular channels and see how it goes. If you get stuck, you can always sign up for Cranky Concierge (crankyconcierge.com) and we can try to help.

      • Linda says:

        I have to give huge kudos to US Airways and a big 100% happy with them. My luggge was badly damaged, it looked like a machine caught it tore it and something ran over it. It was a brand new piece of luggage. I filled the claim. Within a week I got a call saying they couldn’t repair it and they would replace it with exactly what I had. I could not have asked for anything more. Accidents do happen, it’s how they handle them that tells us what kind of a company they are. Good job US Air.

  17. Linda says:

    Thanks. It’s so bad,no way they could repair it. Will they normally just replace it? Also I’d want the same suitcase not some cheap one, is that what happens?

    I’ve very lucky, I fly a lot and this is the first time I’ve had damage like this. Just normal stuff all the other times. I have taken lots of photos since I have to turn the suitcase in.

    Thanks again.

  18. MG says:

    It would be nice to be able to pinpoint exactly who ran over your luggage or rummaged through the entire bag, without a TSA calling card in the case. My luggage looked like a 400 lb gorilla sat on the case then someone tried to force the case shut. The Inside bags were sliced open and the contents completely strewn all over the case. Some items did not make the journey to my house. My luggage came in wrapped in white tape to hold it together. This was a hard samsonite case. Still waiting to here from the claims department.

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