Lost luggage has historically been one of the top annoyances of air travel, but a simple piece of technology being added to some luggage tags this year could limit the problem.
Radio Frequency Identification, also known as RFID, uses radio waves to identify and track an object.
Although the technology has been around for decades and has long been used to track parcels, it is only now available at every Delta Air Lines counter. The airline announced in April a $50 million investment to overhaul its old barcode bag tracking system to include RFID printers and sensors at 344 airports, plus a tracking app that will provide push alerts so customers can stay updated on the whereabouts of their bags.
Baggage handlers will be able to get all the information they need about a bag from a tiny chip placed inside an otherwise unassuming paper luggage tag instead of having to scan each individual barcode by hand.
When loading bags, a light will flash green if everything is on track or red to alert a handler a bag may need more attention.
Other airlines have experimented with RFID, but none at this scale: Hong Kong's airport launched a smart baggage system in 2009, Las Vegas McCarran airport debuted its version in 2012; and Alaska Airlines, Lufthansa, and Qantas have toyed with it.
Brett Snyder, who runs the blog Cranky Flier, told NBC News the technology could help put an end to lost luggage crankiness.
"The airlines have been doing better in general when it comes to mishandled bags, but this is going to help significantly," Snyder said.
"Things really go off the rails when you have storms and you have bags scattered everywhere," Snyder said. "Over the past few years, you've seen airlines going behind the scenes to focus on better operating and handling."
That investment is reflected in the declining number of missing bags. For the month of June, there were 2.82 reports of mishandled luggage per 1,000 customers, according to the Department of Transportation's Air Travel Consumer Report. During the same period last year, there were 3.47 reports per 1,000 passengers.
By Alyssa Newcomb for nbcnews.com
Photo by Louis Llerena | Unsplash