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What's News: Automating Baggage Handling

By Tema Frank

Airport baggage handling has been on my mind since a recent trip from New York to Edmonton, Canada during which my baggage was lost. It finally showed up three days later, battered and bruised. The cash I had stupidly left in it was, of course, long gone. What shocked me most was how much of the handling and tracking process still appears to be manual. You would think that when we stopped in Toronto to clear customs and change planes they would have known that certain bags hadn’t made it on to the plane. Wrong.

It turns out the human factor still hasn’t been addressed very well in this industry. Not only is tracking still a challenge, but baggage handlers face one of the highest injury rates of any profession. They are forced into awkward positions while lifting and tossing heavy weights, over and over again. To solve these problems, 3B Aviation and industrial sorting systems specialist Crisplant, collaborated with SAS Ground Service (SGS) and the Copenhagen Airport (CPHA) to improve efficiency while lowering injury rates.

Baggage Handler

Using feedback from ground handling staff while developing their concept and prototypes, they created the RampMate®, an automated system that avoids the need for the manual lifting of bags, while increasing efficiency and baggage tracking capabilities.

By integrating services previously provided by different companies (the airline, the airport, and the “system integrator” which helps get the bags through the sorting process), they are able to speed up the handling process and keep tabs on the luggage no matter where it is.

The system is fully automated, from check-in to the final claims area. After bags are checked in by the passenger, they are sorted and routed by an “Automated Make-Up Unit” that registers the bags in the system and conveys them to a cart assigned to their flight. When the cart is rolled to the airplane for loading, the baggage handler scans the cart with a hand-held device to ensure that it does not contain any bags that have not received security clearance to be loaded. If everything is okay, the bags are automatically rolled off the cart and onto a ramp that slides them into the plane. If there is a bag that has not been cleared and matched to a passenger, it is easy to spot and remove.

Once the plane has arrived, a similar process happens in reverse. Once the bags are rolled off the plane and onto the cart, they are taken into the baggage handling area where they are automatically unloaded and separated and directed to the arrivals carousel or for transfer to another flight.

I confess, it didn’t sound revolutionary to me; I had assumed this sort of technology had been available for ages. In truth, this fully automated approach was launched in 2008 and is still only used by a minority of airports. Let’s hope it catches on before my next trip to New York!UX

 

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This article was originally printed in User Experience Magazine, Volume 9, Issue 4, 2010.
http://www.usabilityprofessionals.org/upa_publications/past_issues/2010-4.html.

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