Airport baggage handling systems play a crucial role in keeping many thousands of travellers happy. In many cases they can often make a huge difference to the airport in attracting and keeping major airlines.
Larger airports will act as ‘hubs’; this essentially means they are a routing service for flights. They will centrally connect many flights from different airline companies.
The airport baggage handling system will perform three different functions:
- Departure: Move bags from the check-in area to the relevant gate
- Arrival: Move bags to the baggage reclaim area
- Transfers: Move bags between different gates
Measuring the Degree of Success
It can be quite easy to measure the degree of success that an airport baggage handling system has. It relies on the answering of one important question: do the bags move from one point to another faster than the passengers can? If the answer to this is no, then the chances are that there will be frustrated customers left waiting for their luggage. In some cases the luggage might not even make the connecting flights in the required amount of time, leading to delays or worse.
A positive answer to the above question can also bring its own issues. These can often be the luggage arrives too quickly and then they might be loaded onto connecting flights, that the passengers themselves actually miss.
Each individual airport will have its own criteria. The allotted time for each bag to get to its destination point will vary. In some airports it might mean passengers having to take a train to get to and from the departure gates, whilst at others it could just be a short walk. The luggage travels along massive conveyor belts for every part of its journey. Each of the conveyors will need to be set up very differently, to avoid issues like the ones mentioned above.
It should be noted that these conveyors are far from simple devices. They are equipped with many different sorting machines and junctions which serve to automatically route the luggage to the correct areas.
In many respects the baggage handling system can be likened to a road system in a town or city. Imagine for a moment that your luggage was the actual car and the conveyor was the road. Baggage handling and a road network share many similarities. Excess volumes of baggage can turn the system into a traffic jam; when this happens other baggage can actually be routed around the problem area.
Complex Computer Systems
Where the baggage handling system differs is in the way that it makes all of the decisions about where the luggage is going. Huge numbers of different computers work to keep track on each and every bags exact location. Furthermore they are also aware about the schedules of the planes and each traveller’s itinerary. These complex computer programs take control and run the conveyors switches and junctions to ensure that the baggage gets to the correct destination, on time.
The initial process for handling your bags will start at the check-in desk. The agent will take receipt of your baggage and it will be scanned into the airports computer systems. Each individual bag is issue with its very own barcode. This unique number can be used by each different computer to check the status of your luggage.
The bag is quickly despatched along the initial conveyors, but only for a short distance. It is then scanned by a series of automatic barcode scanners; determining the next direction of travel. In the event that a bag cannot be scanned within the time allowed it will be sent via other conveyors to a separate area, for manual scanning.
Just as soon as the baggage handling system has recorded the 10 digit barcode from your luggage it is able to pinpoint exactly where the luggage is, which of the many conveyors it is on. These sophisticated scanning systems will also make sure the luggage makes its way through the various security systems and x-ray machines, before finding its way to the destination gate.
Airport baggage handling systems would simply grind to a halt if it wasn’t for the work of the conveyors, moving the many thousands of bags each day. These little known systems serve to meet the demands of travellers and airlines alike.