American Airlines promises to find your bags

Belgium Airport Outage
Passengers check in among left pieces of luggage at Brussels Zaventem Airport in Brussels on Thursday, June 15, 2017. A power outage delayed departing planes.

American Airlines has new technology that notifies passengers if their checked bag will be late, or landed early, perhaps because a customer missed a connecting flight.

The notifications, sent by text, email, or phone, aim to take the annoyance out of waiting in vain at the baggage carousel.

“The most frustrating for passengers is standing at the baggage belt waiting and at the very end to realize that your bag is not there,” said American spokesman Ross Feinstein. “Now we can send you a notice that lets you fill out the claim form from your mobile phone.”

Since 2015, passengers on American and merger partner US Airways have been able to track checked bags in real time by going on American’s website, and typing in bag claim information.

What’s new is that American, which operates a hub and 390 daily flights in Philadelphia, is notifying customers if their bags are not on the plane. Travelers will get an alert shortly after arriving at their final destination with the next steps to take. If the bag arrived early, the message will direct them to the baggage service office to collect it.

If a bag is late, passengers can fill out a baggage order on their mobile device to specify where they want the luggage delivered – at home or a hotel – without having to see a customer service agent.

American rolled out the technology on July 27.

“It’s one of these improvements in technology that definitely helps, if it works,” said Charles Leocha, president of Travelers United, a nonprofit consumer group. “I was just with friends in Europe whose bags [on Aer Lingus] didn’t show up for 17 days. We knew exactly where they were, but they couldn’t get them. A lot of times just knowing is not enough.”

“You still need to get the bag,” Leocha said. “I think Delta was the first one to do this a while back, and now American is responding. It can’t hurt.”

Online baggage tracking is not new. American uses scanners and bar codes; Delta Air Lines and Alaska Airlines employ Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology. Annually, more than four billion bags are carried by airlines globally. Fewer than 0.43 percent fail to arrive with their owners. The industry said it wants to do even better.

By June 2018, the International Air Transport Association and Airlines for America set a goal that all airlines must be able to track each checked bag, when accepted at an airport, loaded on a plane, and transferred to the arrival system, or put onto another plane. And the tracking information should be able to be shared among carriers.

IATA and global information technology provider SITA said that RFID technology could reduce the number of mishandled bags by as much as 25 percent by 2022, and could save the industry $3 billion over the next seven years.

“Anyone can use this, even if you do not have an AAdvantage frequent flier account,” Feinstein said. “When you check in, you’ll be prompted to provide your contact information to reach you in case of any irregular operations. Whether at a kiosk, or aa.com, we’ll collect that information and put it into your reservation,” he said. “We’ll either text, email, or call you.”

American’s checked bags are scanned multiple times, including at passenger check-in, when loaded on the plane, when unloaded from a plane, and at baggage claim.

American ranked seventh among 12 airlines in mishandled baggage reports filed by passengers in May, with 2.56 complaints per 1,000 passengers compared with 3.08 complaints a year earlier, according to the Department of Transportation Air Travel Consumer Report.

Virgin America had the fewest complaints – 1.57 per 1,000 passengers, and ExpressJet ranked 12th  with 3.45 complaints per thousand passengers.