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NEWS Last modified on April 22, 2014

Smooth operator: the importance of a good baggage handling system

Air travel isn’t what it used to be. Largely gone is the wonder and excitement of yesteryear and in its place is a desire for speed, simplicity and freedom from worry. 

But no matter how modern the terminal and how stunning the architecture, a fast, efficient and smoothly operating baggage handling system always plays a major part in delivering an exceptional service and ensuring that passengers will be drawn back to your airport.

It starts with the check-in process, which is generally the passenger’s first interface with the terminal. Passengers will expect to see some form of self-check-in nowadays, but it must be simple to use even for first-timers or those who fly once a year.

In most new terminals the ideal solution is a one-step process where you walk up to the kiosk, check-yourself in, receive a boarding card, get your baggage tag and attach it, then have your bags weighed, scanned and sent into the system.

In addition to a fast and easy check-in, passengers want to be assured that their bags are going to join them at their destination. A tote-based baggage handling system, such as Crisplant’s CrisBag, can deliver 100% track and traceability because as soon as a bag is placed in a tote after check-in, all the information in the IATA barcode on the baggage tag is married to the embedded RF tag on the tote, which is then used to easily track the tote all through the system.

The bag and tote are never separated and the bag tag doesn’t have to be read again. RF readers are built into the track at critical decision points or where there is a merger of tracks, so it is simple to verify that the bag is en route and it will never get lost.

This technology was first introduced in European airports, but now that the US TSA has recommended that it is the ideal way to handle bags through security screening, it is expected to spread rapidly to airports all over the world.

Besides the technical aspects, there is also a conceptual side which needs to be looked at. The passenger flow and the resulting entry of bags into the system cannot be controlled by the baggage handling system designers; nor can they control the other end of the process, when aircraft come in and leave.

That means that the in-feed is pushing bags into the system and through the building, and they are simply squeezed out at the other end. So if they want to be more flexible at the out-feed but cannot control the in-feed, then the two ends must be decoupled.

That requires the use of a buffer, which is where the early bag store comes in as it can be turned from a simple holding area into a staging area for assembling bags into batches before they are loaded into a ULD. In this way, as with the system installed by Crisplant in Bergen Airport, the early bag store is transformed into what is becoming known as a dynamic bag store.

Once you have centralised dynamic storage in your system, you can turn the operation around from a ‘push’ system into a ‘pull’ system, in which the handler can call for bags as needed.

When it is time to load a flight, bags are called from wherever they might be in the storage area and moved into queuing lanes. Bags may also move to a queuing lane direct from check-in, which ensures that also the bags of business travellers, who tend to arrive much closer to their departure time, are handled smoothly and rapidly.

When the appropriate number of bags has been assembled into a queuing lane, the whole batch can be loaded into a ULD in a few minutes and the lane can be built up again with bags for the same or a different flight as necessary. This way of working makes much better use of out-feed chutes and also requires fewer handlers because the entire working environment is so much more efficient.

The use of dynamic bag storage also has the benefit of smoothing peaks in activity and enabling the baggage system to cope with spikes in throughput. This is because once bags are checked in they do not enter what is essentially a queue that stretches to the baggage make-up area. All bags can go into the store, which can accept them as fast as they arrive.

This smoothing of the flow also enables a reduction in the number of check-ins and the amount of equipment required for baggage handling. Such a system is also very modular, which makes it extremely flexible and easy to expand.

Naturally, with this reduction in the space required for the baggage handling system comes an immediate financial benefit, specifically for new builds in terms of less capital expenditure on construction and the possibility of being able to devote a greater area to revenue-generating activity such as retail.

This article has been written by Crisplant. Visit www.beumergroup.com for more information.

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