CC BY 2.0 Dan O’Brien / Samsonite

Smart bags: improving the air travel experience

The fate and handling of a passenger’s bags, whether checked-in or carried-on, is a central part of the air travel experience for each passenger.  Current processes for checked baggage are inefficient and inconvenient for passengers, airports and airlines. Regulatory constraints, long-established practices and outdated infrastructure have hindered innovation and delivered a dehumanised experience.

This project explored potential opportunities to change the way passengers travel with checked baggage, and how to leverage advances seen in similar time-sensitive, process-focussed industries such as supply chain and package delivery. With trends emerging from these industries, as well as in travel and hospitality, there are opportunities and solutions available to make the passenger experience, and especially the checked baggage aspect, more predictable and therefore more enjoyable and attractive to passengers.

Improvements to checked bag processes have been slow. Though we are seeing the beginning of some enhancements such as self-tagging, bag drop and baggage tracking, there is virtually no current baggage solution that takes advantage of advances found in other logistic or fulfilment industries such as Amazon, FedEx and UPS.

Airports, airlines and control authorities all have different “customers”. This means that aligning their various objectives will always be challenging. However, tackling this challenge is likely to provide a significant benefit if these parties work together to deliver a better overall product, or experience, to the passenger.

Transforming air travel into something that appeals more as a human experience needs to start with some basic guiding principles:

1. The checked bag is a key element of an end-to-end travel experience.
2. Checked bag status must be available all of the time.
3. The traveller can direct the checked bag to and from a specific destination.

These fundamental guiding principles serve as the core objectives for delivering checked bag solutions that would better align to a future of air travel experience that is personalised and empowered.

This project identified potential opportunities to change the way passengers travel with baggage.  We reviewed developments that have been successfully applied in other customer-focussed, time-sensitive, process-focused industries such as the sharing economy, hospitality, supply chain logistics and package delivery. We identified the solutions that are most applicable to the enhancement of air travel  and identified potential collaborations that can allow us to turn ideas into practical solutions.

The insights gained can help make the passenger bag experience more predictable and attractive, and will support our ongoing work to implement the latest technical achievements into the context of air travel.

This project examined the state-of-the-art and emerging trends regarding air travel experience focusing on challenges regarding passengers’ checked baggage. We considered baggage processing to start at the moment the passenger books a flight and to continue until the passenger and their bags arrive or re-connect at the passenger's intended destination.

Several forward-thinking ideas have been suggested, including the concept of the smart bag, real-time tracking, and unlimited baggage pick-up and delivery. Implementation of these ideas will positively impact not only passengers but also other stakeholders involved in the air travel process.  Having the ability to take control of the checked bag’s journey, enabling passengers to pick-up and deliver baggage from anywhere and to anywhere could potentially reduce the amount of infrastructure required at terminal buildings for both check-in and bag reclaim. Such services would also provide a detailed tracking of the bag to give confidence that it will be a seamless, reliable and safe experience for passengers.