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No more lost luggage? Delta's new technology lets you track your bags

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Lost luggage could soon be a thing of the past.

By the end of this year, passengers flying Delta will be able to track their luggage from along every step of their trip using the Fly Delta mobile app.

Delta Airlines, which is one of the largest carriers at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, is rolling out a first-of-its-kind technology for United States-based airlines that will replace the handheld barcode scanner system that became standard in the 1990s, according to a news release from Delta.

This technology is called Radio Frequency Identification (RFID). Scanners use radio waves to capture the data stored on an RFID chip that's embedded in the luggage tag.

How does it work?

Delta's belt loaders will have a sensor that scans the RFID chip when the bag is being loaded onto the plane. A light will flash green when the bag is going onto the correct plane or red when the luggage needs additional handling.

It also makes it easier for Delta agents when passengers miss their connection. Right now, if someone misses their flight, an agent on the ground has to manually scan each bag to find a customer's luggage and make sure it gets retagged for the new flight.

But with the new technology, Delta agents can pinpoint a single bag to make sure it gets to the right place, the news release explains.

When the luggage is scanned, that data is sent via push notifications to the Fly Delta mobile app, so passengers can track their bags on and off the plane.

“In the same way that customers want information at their fingertips about flight changes, we know our customers want clear visibility to their checked bags,” Tim Mapes, Delta’s Chief Marketing Officer, said in a the release. “Delta’s industry-first baggage tracking app was a good first step. RFID will allow us to set a new standard for more transparent, interactive tracking on the Fly Delta mobile app.”

Initial testing of the system shows bags are tracked at a 99.9 percent success rate, the release notes. And by the fourth quarter of this year, Delta says it will be using RFID to track bags on all Delta mainline and Delta Connection flights.

Delta's Senior Vice President of Airport Customer Service and Cargo Operations Bill Lentsch says this new technology will help "widen the gap" between them and their competitors, the release says.

Mishandled bags

The United States Department of Transportation tracks the number of reports airlines get from passengers about their mishandled luggage every month.

It's called a mishandled-baggage rate, and in February 2016 (the latest month available), the rate was 2.64 reports per 1,000 passengers for all U.S. carriers.

That's an improvement over both February 2015, which saw a mishandled-baggage rate of 3.64, and January 2016, which had a 3.32 rate.

Here's a look at the mishandled-baggage rate by airlines for February 2016, according to the Department of Transportation:

Delta, which handles 120 million bags every year, has been among the top performing airlines when it comes to mishandled bags in recent years. In 2015, Delta had a mishandled-baggage rate of 1.82 per 1,000 customers, according to a news release.

If Delta lost or delayed your luggage, click here for more information about reimbursement and baggage fee rebates.

New baggage technology, along with resolutions by the International Air Transport Association, have helped airlines hit an all-time low for lost or mishandled luggage in 2015, according to a recently-released baggage report by SITA – an aviation communications and technology company tracks lost baggage rates around the globe.

In 2015, the mishandled-baggage rate was 6.5 bags per 1,000 passengers – that's down 10.5 percent from the year before, and less than half the rate it was in 2003.

The number of lost bags improved despite the 85 percent rise in passengers since 2003, SITA notes.

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