Shostack + Friends Blog Archive


Bag Matching and Lost Bags

Every now and then, it seems like TSA can do something right. I’ll let you know. In the meantime, the New York Times tells us that “Frustration Grows at Carousel as More Baggage Goes Astray:”

The Transportation Department reported that 107,731 more fliers had their bags go missing in August than they did a year earlier, a 33 percent increase. It got worse in September, with 183,234 more passengers suffering mishandled bags than a year earlier, up 92 percent.

Globally, about 30 million bags are mishandled each year, according to SITA, a company that sells software to airlines and airports for baggage and other systems. Airlines spend about $2.5 billion to find those bags and deliver them to waiting, often angry, passengers.

So does that mean that they lost 350,000 bags in September?

Now, I never check bags if I have a stop-over, because if you check bags, there is no way they’ll allow you to hop onto a new flight. It’s a “security measure.” No, I take that back. Bag matching is a real security measure, designed to ensure that you’re on the same flight as your bag. The assumption is that there are more people willing to commit murder than suicide. But given that its an actual security measure, shouldn’t they not be letting 350,000 bags go astray every month?

Before you say it’s an economics issue, maybe they should assign those people making you take off your shoes and checking your ID to doing something useful.

7 comments on "Bag Matching and Lost Bags"

  • Chris says:

    Sounds to me like RFID is the solution!

  • Orv says:

    …I never check bags if I have a stop-over, because if you check bags, there is no way they’ll allow you to hop onto a new flight. It’s a “security measure.”
    It’s also an airline-profit-protection measure. It means you can’t louse up their load management by changing flights in mid-trip. It also cuts down on so-called “hidden city” fares, where people take advantage of a discount fare to a particular destination to get to a hub city, by simply not taking the connecting flight.

  • Hmm. I don’t think the numbers give a terribly clear picture here. What is the total number of bags moved through the system? Is this 1% or .001% error? That would make a big difference in estimating how hard it would be to reduce the error rate, and estimate the security risk. If we believe SITA’s numbers, a bag costs $100 to track down and deliver. Is that high?
    Chris – levels of sarcasm are hard to detect in text. If you could show me numbers that a tear-off RFID tag would be more effective that the tear-off bar codes, I can’t say that I would have a huge privacy or security problem. This seems to be the type inventory management problem that RFID is good for.

  • Chris says:

    Undetected/ambiguous sarcasm is my core competency, seemingly.
    I was thinking bar codes would be better because they (I believe) lack the ability to be read at a large distance by persons unknown.

  • adam says:

    bar codes require bag rotation, rather than simply tossing them onto the belt. it’s a few extra seconds which would add up

  • Nikita says:

    I think since the owner of the luggage has no control over whether it gets lost, even a moderately good bag matching scheme (say 90% accurate) can be effective at discouraging murderers who don’t want to commit suicide from putting bombs in their luggage.

  • Nikita says:

    The article says 1B bags are checked and 30M are lost, so 97% of all bags are delivered correctly.

Comments are closed.