How The IoT Is Transforming Airport Baggage Handling Systems?

airplane taking off representing airport handling systems
airport handling systems

Aviation is undoubtedly one of the most technically advanced industries in the world. A bevy of departments work in unison to keep the commercial airports up and running, one of them being the baggage handling systems department.

Moreover, with the advent of the Internet of Things or IoT, the aviation field is set to change drastically in the coming years. 

To further elaborate on this transformation, one must discuss the potential impact of IoT on airport baggage handling systems. But first, it’s essential to know how the baggage handling system works in the first place to understand its subsequent transformation. 

How do airport baggage handling systems work?

The baggage handling system or BHS is an intricate network that spans the entire length of the airport.

It’s essentially the backbone of the entire infrastructure as all airlines depend on this system to efficiently and safely transport luggage across large distances within the premises. 

There are three main objectives of BHS:

  •  Transporting the luggage from the check-in area to the boarding area
  •  Moving it from one gate to another if there is a transfer 
  •  Lastly, carrying the bags from the arrival gate to the baggage claim. 

Moreover, it all has to have perfect timing, as the process can’t be too slow or too fast, as it will create unnecessary confusion among the passengers. 

To do this effectively, the BHS uses two leading technologies, one is a barcode scanning system, and the other is a conveyor system. The barcode effectively scans and stores information on the baggage tag.

The conveyor system is an extensive network that spans the entire airport, transporting all the luggage to different flights or the baggage claim.

To ensure that this movement of luggage is smooth and hassle-free, most airports use roller conveyors in their BHS.

Now that the basics of baggage handling are covered, it’s time to understand the need for using IoT on this system. 

Three fundamental reasons behind baggage mishandling

Here are three common scenarios that lead to baggage mishandling:

Manual Error

One of the most common and frustrating problems passengers face is losing their baggage.

More often than not, their bags end up in the wrong plane, and consequently, at the wrong airport when they land.

The most common cause for this mishap is a human error when a baggage handler accidentally places it in the wrong cart and loads it onto a different airplane. 

Incorrect Destination Code

This mistake can happen right at the check-in counter.

Every flight has a different destination code, and the baggage tags have to match that code to be loaded on the right plane.

However, if the attendant types in the wrong code, it’s bound to be mishandled or misplaced.

Routing Label Damaged

The baggage placed at the check-in counter gets a routing label, which can sometimes be illegible and create confusion later. Alternatively, the correct routing label can get damaged, torn, or snagged when the luggage is traveling in the conveyor system. 

Due to these three errors, it’s not uncommon for passengers to fret about their luggage. This is where IoT comes into the picture. 

Three ways in which IoT is transforming airport baggage handling systems

Adoption of IoT RFID readers for tracking luggage movement

One of the primary objectives of IoT is to ensure better tracking of passengers’ luggage. Moreover, the passengers themselves would also like to keep track of their luggage after check-in to travel without any concerns.

A survey further confirms this sentiment, wherein 81 percent of passengers wanted to keep track of their luggage throughout the journey. 

To accommodate baggage tracking, many airlines and airports are opting for RFID readers throughout their baggage handling systems.

These readers can be placed at multiple points within the transportation system, including necessary entry and exit points. 

The readers can then keep scanning for RFID tags, and when the luggage passes through these scanners, authorities can track its position with extreme accuracy. Not only will it reduce the margin for error, but it will also be a great way to check the system’s efficiency. 

The scanned information can also be sent and stored in a cloud network so that the passengers can readily access the data through an app or website. Thus, travelers can watch their luggage in real-time, passing through the airport.

Hence, the RFID technology can be a revolutionary way to ensure that the BHS functions optimally. 

Leveraging IoT for predictive maintenance

Ensuring the system’s efficiency is simple when the different variables are working in sync. However, some components might malfunction or break down sooner or later, leading to a loss of productivity. 

One great example is the conveyor system, which uses rollers and other belts.

As efficient and durable as it is, these conveyors are bound to get worn down or damaged with time and would require extensive maintenance and repair.

This would translate to delay in transporting baggage and can ultimately lead to luggage mishandling, damage, or other mishaps. Unsurprisingly, airlines want to avoid this scenario at all costs, and this is where IoT can come in handy. 

The solution is installing various sensors in the conveyor system to keep track of multiple parameters such as speed, operating temperature, and other variables. This data can then be transmitted via the cloud directly to the respective departments.

The respective authorities can then review the data and preemptively schedule maintenance or repair to keep the system functioning as smoothly as possible. 

Apart from serving as a data mine to feed to AI-based operations tracking systems, these sensors can be used for remote monitoring and alerting the maintenance teams if any of the parameters change drastically beyond the standard threshold. 

Reduction of luggage mishandling and increased transparency using IoT technology

Though the current baggage handling systems are pretty accurate and efficient, they are not infallible. And thanks to human error, there are still instances of luggage being lost, mishandled, or transported to the wrong location.

Hence, the most fundamental purpose of using IoT here is to reduce the instances of luggage mishaps. 

As mentioned above, with the help of RFID technology, any piece of luggage can be constantly scanned at various points in the baggage handling system, thereby ensuring that it doesn’t get lost in transit.

According to IATA, RFID technology is 99.98% accurate in baggage handling, thus decreasing the number of mishandled baggage per year by 25%. Many major US airlines have already embraced IoTs, with Delta Airlines investing $50 million in RFIDs-led BHS in 2016.

Apart from reducing the instances of luggage mishandling, airlines and airports adopting IoTs can ensure complete transparency with customers by offering real-time baggage tracking through apps or websites.

Thanks to IoT data readily available on the cloud,  passengers no longer have to worry about the whereabouts of their luggage.


To conclude, while this technology has not yet been implemented on a wide scale across airports worldwide, their prototypes used in BHS of certain airports have met with resounding success. Hence, it is only a matter of time before IoT is implemented in airports all across the globe, making air travel even more convenient.


Author’s Bio: Dhruv Mehta is a Digital Marketing Professional who works as a brand consultant and provides solutions in the digital era. He loves to write about marketing, business, finance, & tech. Follow him on Twitter or connect with him via LinkedIn.