A few weeks ago a prospect asked us if and how emulating the airport’s baggage handling system could reduce the number of lost bags. Very few travellers do not have baggage. Consequently, the material handling of baggage is one of an airline or airport’s core businesses.
Before answering the prospect’s question, we had a discussion of what constitutes a lost bag, and why so-called lost bags are important.
We talked about the last part first.
Airport Baggage Problems
- customer dissatisfaction, and revenue lost therefrom
- direct costs related to the lost bags
- indirect costs
Customer dissatisfaction is directed towards both the airline and airport, although primarily the former. The dissatisfaction expressed towards the airline is evidenced in the refusal to travel on “that airline ever again”. Most customers do not understand the relationship between airlines and airports and see both as just being two parts of the same thing. More seasoned travellers recount how their baggage “always” gets lost at such-and-such an airport, and therefore, they avoid travelling through that airport. So both airlines and airports lose revenue when bags are lost.
Direct costs related to the lost bags include the time and effort required for the lost bag’s recovery. There are costs associated with airline staff required to track the lost bag and deal with the usually irate customer. Once the bag is found, there is the cost of transporting it to the owner, both in the air and on the ground, and the extra cost of the special handling. This type of cost can spiral as the owner changes location and the lost bag chases the owner. Direct costs also involve any good-will compensation that the airlines extend to the irate customer, including vouchers for travel and temporary baggage item replacement. Direct costs also include the payout to recompense the customer for the bag and contents when the bag is truly completely lost, and any related insurance fees.
In 2008, the United States Department of Transportation’s Office of Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings reported about 2.5 million lost bags reported for 19 major U.S. airlines, carrying about 457 million passengers. The report did not include the costs of recovery or compensation. But when one factors in a reasonable estimate of just the direct costs cited above, the overall cost is impressive. And this is only for travel on the 19 U.S. carriers included in the report.
Indirect costs relate to attempts to find the cause of bags going lost once there are enough bags lost in a pattern that emerges as systemic. This effort, when actually taken, is expensive, as it involves developing tools and techniques which are not readily available. Indirect costs also relate to the fact that many passengers do not check their bag because of fears of losing it, and collectively board the aircraft with too much carry-on luggage, which results in departure delays and the loss of service we’ve all witnessed as cabin crew attempt to stow the carry-ons, and then actually frequently return the carry-ons to checked baggage, resulting in more customer dissatisfaction.
Once we concluded that it was important to minimize the number of lost bags, we talked about what is a “lost bag”.
Although for the sake of discussion we’ll continue to use the term “lost bag” in the remainder of this article, the term “lost bag” is a misnomer. Most bags are not actually lost; without trivializing the impact described above, the lost bag is really actually only “delayed” or “misplaced”. The fact that the bag is delayed or misplaced does not reduce most of the related costs. On the other hand, I personally have to confess that I feel much better when an airline reports that my bag has been identified and located in a specific airport, and is merely misplaced.
A truly lost bag is missing and never recovered. While what causes this is beyond the scope of this article, a truly lost bag can originate from simple baggage delays or misplacement.
How To Prevent Lost Luggage Using Emulation
We finally got around to answering the prospect’s original question.
Yes, emulation of your baggage handling system can reduce the number of delayed and misplaced lost bags.
There are many ways to prevent lost luggage using emulation, but for the sake of brevity, we’ll highlight just a few. In the following, we’ve taken the liberty of assuming that you the reader understand the difference between emulation and simulation. A primer is available at our website, www.emulogix.com.
On the topic of misplaced bags, such things happen because the baggage handling system control system missorts the bag. The bag takes a conveying path different than the one intended, and there are no downstream systems in place to identify the rogue bag, or, those systems also fail.
This happens because usually when a system is tested, it is tested to check that the system conforms to positive expectations. This is a convergent form of testing, whereby if I place a bag destined for X on the conveyor, and the bag arrives at X, all is OK.
Using the emulation tools, you can place a bag destined for X on the conveyor, and make it arrive at Y, and see what happens. You can then modify the control system to correctly interrupt and deal with this anomaly. This is almost impossible to do in the bag room.
Using the emulation tools, you can place thousands of bags on the conveyor destined for X, Y, Z or wherever, and determine why, if any, bags get misplaced. Again, this is also almost impossible to do in the bag room. And if there are misplaced bags, you determine this without involving your customer.
On the topic of delayed bags, such things happen for three main reasons: mechanical breakdown of equipment, interference in baggage flow due to mechanical or other reasons, and control system software failure.
An emulator cannot prevent mechanical breakdown. But it can reliably replicate and demonstrate how the baggage handling system reacts to one. This is hardly ever tested for in the bag room because frankly, it is too darn hard. And then when it does happen, it is real darn expensive.
Baggage flow interference occurs because of loading, or impact of devices like EDS (explosive detection subsystems). The capability of emulating the impact through high virtual loads is again almost impossible to accomplish using actual bags and equipment inside the actual bag room. You can emulate any variety of manual inspection rates on EDS suspect bags and determine how the actual baggage handling system reacts.
Finally, control system software failure occurs because the correct (or incorrect) mix of bags was not introduced during commissioning. As described in previous articles, our emulation tools and expertise identify and correct these issues, using loading, scripting, and replay techniques.
Using our emulation capabilities, you can develop complete confidence that bag loss does not originate in your baggage handling system. Not only does this reduce lost bag counts, you know where not to look for systemic issues. The airline or airport which uses completely emulated baggage handling systems will consequently see a reduction in lost bag counts.