American Airlines Not Ready To Invest In Better Technology To Track Your Luggage

Checking baggage with American Airlines can be more frustrating than checking a bag with Delta or with Alaska Airlines.

  • American has eliminated curbside check-in at many airports, and outsourced it in most cases – so that customers are charged for the service (instead of being a cost center, American now earns a commission on each bag).

  • They take longer to deliver bags to customers. Both Delta and Alaska offer 20 minute baggage delivery guarantees, with offers of compensation if bags take longer to reach the carousel. American isn’t in a position to do that. They track bag delivery times but for instance in Miami only deliver bags within 20 minutes of arrival 63% of the time.

  • American Airlines also generally mishandles more bags and a higher percentage of bags than competitors.

One way that airlines are improving the checked baggage experience is through technology that makes it faster and easier to drop off bags, and also to track bags throughout their journey. Not everyone has Apple AirTags, and knowing where your bag is doesn’t help if the airline doesn’t.

Close American Airlines partner Alaska Airlines is rolling out permanent electronic bag tags that customers can affix to bags. American has no plans to do this – or to use RFID technology to track bags.

At the internal company ‘state of the airline’ meeting after Thursday’s earnings call (a recording of which was reviewed by View From The Wing), Chief Operating Officer David Seymour argued that it doesn’t make sense to upgrade baggage tracking technology until their airline partners have done so first. While American is disproportionately a domestic airline, he suggests they won’t get 100% of the benefit of bag tracking unless everyone is doing it – so don’t do it.

Delta has had RFID in their tags but it requires a lot of other infrastructure to be in place in order to go do that…it helps with scanning and those other things.

But given the amount of traffic we connect, our customers with all the other partners we have in our system and they don’t have a comparable one, we don’t get the full advantage of that… As much connecting traffic that we do with all our partners around the world, if they don’t have that comparable one, we’re still left at that lower common denominator there…we’re not ready to commit.

CEO Robert “Don’t Spend A Dollar More Than We Need To” Isom added that while he hasn’t “been paying attention to that for awhile.. RFID is a limited technology as well.” And he explains that some of their hubs have such backwards technology that upgrading how they track bags in this fashion is too big of a challenge to undertake.

Trying to establish readers at every point in the system, bag rooms, carousels, on trucks, that’s hard. There are other technologies. I know we’ve done some work on imaging for instance that could be even more beneficial.

Our team is out there on the front line. We just have to realize as well we operate the world’s largest airline, hubs at every different level of technology, so any time we say we want to do something we have to say can it apply everywhere? Otherwise it really is just a test.

Here’s an important tip for traveling on American with checked bags: if you’re forced to standby for a flight at the gate, your bags will not make it. That’s not just playing the odds, it is literally how American’s systems are designed.

American’s “Deviate” (DV8) system reroutes bags. If your itinerary changes, and you have bags checked, a new tag for your bag gets printed when the bag is scanned. However this only gets triggered if you have to be checked in for your new flight with a seat assignment for the bag to get rerouted. If you stand by at the gate, or you’re rebooked without a seat assignment, your bag isn’t going with you because there’s not going to be enough time for American to locate the bag and get it onto your plane after you’ve been given your boarding pass.

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