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April 5, 2009

Have you ever lost a bag while traveling?

Have you ever noticed what happens to your bags when you go to the airport? I know what you are thinking if you are like me: I do not want to pay the $15 per bag charge so I am going to carry everything on. If you do check a bag, it goes into the belly of the airport somewhere and you may never see it again. I can honestly say that I have not checked a bag since Christmas 2007 ski trip to Denver. That is when an Airline lost my bag never to be found. The skiing was awesome and I got to ski with some very good friends of mine: Jim McManus (Whose blog I hope you read), David Gilbert, and Tim Gorman.

Back to the bags and the airport process we all live with. Let us discuss security for a minute. Each bag that is checked goes down into the airport undercarriage where we hope all bags are scanned for anything bad in an effort to protect us. Next we proceed with our boarding passes through security with our carry-ons in tow. Our bags, shoes, jackets, and our bathing preferences are all scanned very publicly in yet another effort to protect us.

The idea is always that the individual that is flying is on the plane that his or her bags are on. All of his or her bags. This is called bag matching. This is always done in Western Europe as I have seen and heard many times. Once in Dublin, Ireland I heard an announcement for Mr. Donal Plunkett, that if he did not report to the plane in the next 5 minutes, his bags would be removed and his ticket would be cancelled. This happened in 1994. This has been a standard practice in Europe for longer than that. Unfortunately, Americans did not get serious about this until after 9/11. Now that we have, we give it our best effort but bags are still split from travelers as was the case on my ski trip. I still have not received my beautiful lost Tumi bag with all of my ski clothes and favorite hiking boots.

The most frustrating part of this is that I know we have the technology and the intellectual capital to fix this problem in the United States and we can be the shining example for the world. How you ask?

The technology to make this happen is relatively simple and I am more than happy to work with Homeland Security / TSA to make it happen. All they have to do is call me and ask for help! The most effective way to manage this process is to tag each bag, carry ons, checked bags, and travelers with RFID tags. Think of the process from the travelers perspective:

Scenario #1: The traveler goes to the ticket counter and checks in for the flight. He receives a boarding pass with an RFID tag on it. Each of his bags receive RFID tags. He proceeds to security where his ID is checked the way it is today. The traveler proceeds to his gate, boards the plane and puts his bag into the overhead bin. When the traveler lands, he proceeds to the baggage claim kiosk and places his ticket on the RFID reader and the location of his bag shows on the screen. It may be on a carousel or still in the plane but he knows exactly where it is and roughly how long until he will see it.

Scenario #2: Like me today. No luggage to check so I go to the kiosk outside of security to checkin. I am asked how many carryon bags I have and I receive a RFID boarding pass and a RFID bag tags for my carryon bags. I proceed to security where they check my ID and my bags to verify that all of the carryon bags have tags. Everything else is exactly as above but I do not have to pickup bags on the other end.

This does not seem like to much change to me. Now let me explain what is possible on the Homeland Security / TSA side. Once things are RFID tagged as they will be after security, TSA can track movements of individuals and bags throughout the secured sections of the airport. Potentially, a suspicious individual could be tracked from security to the bathroom. pizza place and Starbucks before heading to the gate. If the bags were ever more than 50 feet from the traveler at any given time security could be dispatched to analyze the situation. If a bag was abandoned, security would be able to see what was in the bag when it went through security and assess the treat more effectively. TSA could even mandate that airlines read the RFID tags to see which bags go into which overhead bins for any given flight.

The most important security feature would be to identify a potential threats location and the location of their bags within a matter of minutes instead of hours or days or never which is mostly the case today. They might be able to find a person in one of our nations airports, but their bags too and in a matter of minutes? The best part is that I could check a bag again and I would not have to worry about losing my great broken in hiking boots and ski clothes!

This may all seem a little: (Big Brother is watching) as I have described it and in some cases, I would understand how some people would feel that way. Implemented properly, the benefit would be identifying the one or the few that would cause harm as quickly and efficiently as possible. There are many commercial applications of this data as well. One example; the airport selling ad space to companies based on the actual foot traffic that travels through a certain area instead of guessing where the foot traffic goes. There are many more potential commercial applications and I am happy to discuss. I just want to be able to go skiing with my buddies in Colorado and not have to worry about having to buy new ski clothes every year. I guess I will have to drive up until further notice!

The next blog entry will discuss the technology of this idea and how to make it work.

Posted by Stephen Dickson at 12:15 AM | Comments (1)