When you fly, would you want to track your bags like you can track your FedEx package? At some level, this shouldn’t be so hard. Airlines presumably put those tags with bar codes on bags for a reason and on some flights the government mandates matching checked bags with passengers who actually board planes. Hence, it shouldn’t be too surprising that Delta has stepped up and is now offering this service (Delta Lets Fliers Track Bag, Apr 23, Wall Street Journal).
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The new online service, launched earlier this month, allows passengers to follow their checked bags from scanning at check-in, to the flight they’re loaded on, and then to arrival at baggage claim. Delta, which is the first major carrier to offer such a service, said letting passengers see where their bags are can cut down on worries and calls when a bag doesn’t show up on the carousel on time.
“It’s an ease of mind for customers,” said Delta spokesman Paul Skrbec. Initial customer response has been “very positive,” he said.
This is an interesting innovation in process design. Airlines have had this information. We as passengers have known that they have this information. Why not just share it with us? Indeed, the reality is that very few travelers are affected by delayed/lost bags (the article reports that Delta has above average performance and in February had only 2.93 reports of mishandled bags filed per 1,000 passengers). Giving some information on where the bag is could alleviate needless worry.
That said, there seem to be limitations on the system that may keep it from being as useful as package tracking. To begin with, here is a screen shot of what customers see (from a Delta blog).
Delta is clearly not providing the level of detail FedEx does. FedEx essentially records whenever an associate touched the package and presents that in an understandable way. Looking at Delta’s page, it is not even clear whether the bag was put on the same airplane as the passenger (unless that is what “Scanned” is supposed to indicate).
A second point is timeliness. If FedEx delivers a package at 9:30AM and that is shown on their website 30 minutes later, that is likely more than enough information soon enough to keep customers happy. But if I’m sitting on a plane during boarding, I have a limited time until the flight crew instructs me to turn off my smart phone so we can taxi. A half-hour delay (or even a 15 minute) delay becomes unacceptable. Yes, I can check the bag once we’re airborne assuming that internet access is offered and that I am willing to pay for it. In a likelihood, I am in the same state as I was before this service was offered — I am on the plane with no idea whether my bags are with me. Once I get off the plane, I can look up whether my bag made the trip but it may be just as easy to walk to the baggage claim.
Of course, this is picking on the first iteration of a service offering. Better clarity and timeliness will likely come as the system evolves. Plus, you have got to think that more airlines will offer this service in ever more convenient ways. At some point this will show up in smart phone apps if only to give another reason to install a given firm’s app.