AA's Hidden Test to Find How Bags Get Lost, Late

Airline tracks volunteers and their bags through DFW Airport with RFID technology

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    In a hidden test, American Airlines tagged bags and volunteer passengers to find delays in the travel process.

    American Airlines is using high-tech tracking devices to figure out how it can move passengers and their bags through the airport faster and with fewer hassles.

    When Takeshi Misutake lands at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport at 9 a.m., a white tag attached to his backpack tracks some of his moves. He volunteered to be part of the test when he boarded Flight 176 in Tokyo.

    The tag on Misutake's bag contains a tiny radio-frequency identification antenna. The airline placed another identical tag on the suitcase he checked. As the bags move through critical points in the airport, they pass under scanners that read the RFID tag, telling the airline exactly how long it took for the luggage and the traveler to move through parts of the travel process.

    Tagging Bags, Travelers to Find Airport Bottlenecks

    [DFW] Tagging Bags, Travelers to Find Airport Bottlenecks
    American Airlines tags bags and volunteer passengers to find delays in the travel process.

    American is trying to find any hidden bottlenecks or points where bags are more likely to disappear.

    "Where did the passenger get slowed? Was there a line? Was there a number of bags in one area waiting to get through?" AA spokeswoman Stacey Frantz said.

    The RFID technology allows the company to see what actually happens to bags and travelers, without anyone from the company having to be there to personally watch.

    The technology is similar to that in toll tags drivers have become accustomed to. The antenna in the tag alerts the scanner and records the time when the tag passed under the device. American said a similar test it conducted at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York led to changes that cut the number of lost and late bags, and it's hoping for similar results at DFW. 

    The airline is careful to point out that it is only relying on volunteers who agree to have their carry-on and checked bags tracked. The RFID tags cannot be tracked outside of the airport, American said.

    "All of our customers have very willingly said, 'Yes, I would like to participate in the study' because any improvement, of course, directly impacts our customers," Frantz said.

    American ran the test through Tuesday using volunteers who were connecting from international flights arriving at DFW. The airline was able to see how long it takes passengers to clear immigration and customs and retrieve their bags before traveling on.