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From Check-in to Carousel: The Complex World of Baggage Handling

by Andrew Burg,
Feb 22, 2024
Guide to Baggage Handling
Guide to Baggage Handling

Table of Contents

How technology has significantly improved baggage handling operations by making them more efficient and dependable. 

In the world of air travel, where millions of travellers take flight every day, handling baggage effectively is crucial to ensure smooth operations and high levels of passenger satisfaction. Baggage handling logistics, which cover the journey of luggage from the check-in desk to the pickup carousel, play a huge role in enhancing the overall travel experience.  

Here in Australia, which is known for its big distances and bustling airports, efficient baggage handling is critical. In this article, we are going to check through (so to speak) the nuances of baggage handling logistics in Australia. Along the way, we’ll look at the obstacles, procedures and technological advancements that enhance efficiency in this indispensable aspect of air travel. 

So, pack your hand luggage — under 7kg, remember — and hop aboard as we follow your luggage from check-in to the carousel. 

Challenges Faced in Baggage Handling

Baggage handling poses challenges for both airlines and airports. One major issue is the potential for luggage to be lost or mishandled. This inevitably leads to inconvenience and frustration for passengers. Delays in delivering baggage to the correct destination caused by sorting errors or logistical issues can mar the travel experience for customers and result in poor reviews and widespread dissatisfaction.  

This not only impacts an airline’s reputation. The costs involved with rerouting incorrectly handled luggage can be considerable, involving couriers, compensation and criticism.  

Billions of bags 

According to the International Air Transport Association ( IATA), around four billion pieces of luggage are moved annually worldwide. Amazingly, 99.57% of these arrive safely at their correct destination. But although that may sound impressive, the remaining 0.43% constitutes around 17,000,000 pieces of luggage that go missing or are damaged every year. That’s a ton of lost, damaged and misdirected stuff! So as you can imagine, managing this volume of luggage presents all sorts of hurdles in terms of sorting, tracking and transporting bags efficiently. 

The Baggage Handling Process

The process of managing baggage involves stages that demand a high level of coordination. These days, of course, digital tools are at the forefront of baggage labelling and handling. Gone are the days of hand-written labels tied to luggage with string!  

The check-in 

The journey typically starts at check-in, where travellers hand over their bags for screening and labelling. Digital systems also allow passengers to weigh, check and label their baggage, scan the resulting bar codes and send their stuff on its way.  

This stage of the process is generally pretty straightforward. Barcode technology means that each piece of baggage is logged and its destination is known. All baggage undergoes security scanning before it is sent to be loaded.  

Up, up and away

Once it has been labelled and has passed through the check-in area, luggage is organised according to its destination. Automated conveyor systems channel the luggage to the correct area for loading. Depending on the aircraft configuration, baggage may be loaded into specialised containers called Unit Load Devices or manually stacked in the aircraft’s hold. 

Touchdown 

Upon arrival at the destination airport, the ULDs or cart-loads of loose baggage are unloaded into the baggage handling system. This collection of conveyor belts, barcode readers and switch points can direct the individual pieces of luggage to the correct carousel in the arrivals area. Since every bag received a sticker with a barcode when it was checked in, the reader can report the barcode of each bag to a computer which sets the switch point accordingly. In smaller airports, staff use portable barcode readers to put the bags on the right belts.  

Technological advancements have significantly improved baggage handling operations by making them more efficient and dependable. RFID tags are increasingly being used to track luggage throughout its trip, providing airlines and passengers with up-to-date information about the location of their bags.   

State-of-the-art Baggage Handling at Sydney’s New Airport.

The new Western Sydney Airport, currently being built at Badgery’s Creek, will feature one of the world’s most up-to-date and efficient baggage handling systems. According to a 2022 article published in International Airport Review, the new airport’s baggage system “will provide 100 per cent bag tracking, giving passengers and airlines confidence that luggage will arrive safely, at the right place and at the right time.”  

“Lost luggage will be a thing of the past” 

The new airport is due to be completed in December 2026. Its baggage handling system will revolutionise baggage handling by utilising digital technology for efficient tracking, loading, and movement. With 100% bag tracking, it aims to eliminate lost luggage, offering passengers and airlines confidence in timely and secure delivery.  

Assisted loading and compatibility with advanced robotics will enhance safety and efficiency, reduce mishandling and result in lower operational costs. Future-proofed and scalable, it promises a seamless passenger experience, with features like real-time bag tracking and synchronised arrival with passengers.  

From Jandals to Jeans and Everything In Between.

Efficient baggage logistics play a key role in providing a user-friendly and reliable travel experience at busy airports in Australia and worldwide. With innovation fueling enhancements in baggage handling practices, travellers can anticipate journeys with fewer hassles, especially at baggage claim areas.  

Behind every relaxed traveller lies a sophisticated system of logistics that ensures your essentials — from jandals to jeans — are with you at your destination. So next time you find yourself basking in the sun on a Bali beach, admiring the view of a European city from your luxurious hotel room, or sipping a cold one in Coolgardie, take a moment to acknowledge the complex choreography of baggage logistics that guaranteed your stuff arrived safely and promptly by your side.