Artificial intelligence, data analytics and biometrics are changing baggage handling

Travellers demand a smooth experience in today's hyper-connected environment. From booking and check-in to arrival, they want to know every journey detail, including up-to-the-minute baggage information.

When it comes to baggage, the most significant future enhancements to airport baggage handling systems (BHS) will almost certainly come from the more widespread implementation of artificial intelligence (AI).

In recent years, artificial intelligence in baggage handling and the wider aviation business has grown in popularity, with a spectrum of tasks ranging from advanced computer vision to complicated data analytics.

AI in baggage handling improves security, passenger services and results in less misplaced luggage, making travel easier for passengers, airlines, and airports.

AI is a BHS game changer

Beumer data specialist, Per Engelbrechtsen says that the use of artificial intelligence in baggage handling systems is fast becoming a game changer for the industry.

“When looking at BHS charts and graphs, the system will automatically provide the user with a recommendation to which decision to make,” Engelbrechtsen told Airports International. “With the quality of data improving all the time, the capabilities for optimising operations will keep improving.”

Marlon van der Meer, founder of BagsID, a Dutch firm employing AI BHS, says automation and machine learning can help track bags from the passenger’s home to the airport apron.

BagsID employs an algorithm to categorise baggage and match it to a registered image set in a library, returning origin, kind, colour, IATA classification, manufacturer, and measurements. BagsID can recognise and identify damaged or altered items and learn from fresh data.

“It’s fascinating how much energy and money is put into what the industry calls seamless journeys,” van der Meer told Airports International. “But what’s seamless about the journey if we still have a prehistoric baggage handling method, meaning you only put a tag on it?”

Losing paper baggage tags

Westjet’s Director of Airports Transformation, Peter Feldstein, remarked that the industry has employed the same fundamental tracking and handling procedures for over 60 years, with little innovation or improvement. But that’s been changing recently, thanks to intriguing advancements in this often-overlooked area.

“The talk in baggage handling has now turned to AI, data and biometrics,” he told Airport Review. “There has been tremendous innovation in the aviation industry and within baggage in the past two years that can and will make our jobs easier. Can you imagine a world with no bag tags? It’s coming by 2030.”

He said losing paper baggage tags will be a major step forward in baggage handling. If a bag’s tag is misplaced, there is currently little to no method to connect the tagless bag to its passenger without costly, time-consuming manual labour.

AI technology employs photo recognition to track and reconcile each traveller’s baggage, which can help anticipate the number of bags each customer will carry based on previous trip data. Size, dimensions, colour, texture, and unique qualities like scratches, dents, and stickers are linked to each passenger. A smartphone scan can link a lost or forgotten suitcase to its owner, who can follow it through their airline’s app.

These methods allow self check-in and baggage claim. The same biometrics technology that lets customers skip check-in lines can be used for luggage self-check-in. Simply take pictures of your bag, place it on the conveyor line, and go.

AI boosts sustainability

While many travellers are watching the aviation industry’s carbon footprint and offsetting their emissions, the environmental impact of their baggage is often ignored.

Paper tags and absence of data are wasteful. Image recognition AI can reduce the waste from non-reusable items like paper and ink, and reduce wasteful manual labour.

Aviation prioritises weight and capacity. Passengers, luggage, cargo, and fuel comprise payload. Visual AI optimises bag sizes and space. Visual pre-screening of baggage can help sort, load, and forecast space, flights, and fuel use. This improves aircraft loading, freight travel, and reduces CO2 emissions.

Cooperation is key to bringing AI baggage handling

End-to-end baggage delivery, luggage storage, and on-demand travel items will increase airport efficiency, but Peter Feldstein says that moving to an AI driven future in baggage handling will require cooperation.

“In order to be ready for a new technology tomorrow we need to build flexibility into all our systems today,” he said. “Evolving the baggage experience will take strong partnerships between the airlines, airports, baggage handlers and third-party technology companies. This would open the door to AI, biometrics, or other yet-unimagined options.”

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