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may 19 2009

Your airline knows where your luggage is...but isn't telling

Let's say you're flying and your bags are going to be delayed. It's not something you're happy about, but you realize that mix-ups happen from time to time.

Wouldn't it be helpful if the airline sent you a text message the moment it knew that your luggage was going to be delayed? After all, if you had that information as you were stepping off of your flight, you wouldn't have to waste time standing at an luggage carousel waiting pointlessly. You could relax a bit, too, because you would have in hand a written promise from the airline that your luggage would reach you at your hotel as soon as possible.

Well, it turns out that a couple of airlines are trying to do just that. In a recent issue of The New Yorker, author Malcolm Gladwell writes about innovation—and the lack of it—in several industries. And one of the examples of innovation cited in the story has to do with baggage claim tracking and processing. In other words, why can't airlines send passengers text-messages as soon as it's obvious that their luggage will be delayed?

The topic came up during an interview with an innovator named Vivek Ranadivé. His computing company TIBCO Software has been working with some airlines, including Delta and Southwest, to help them do a better job of notifying customers when baggage will be delayed. He said:

"You know, when you get on a plane and your bag doesn't, they actually know right away that it's not there. But no one tells you. And a big part of that is that they don't have all their information in one place. There are passenger systems that know where the passenger is. There are aircraft and maintenance systems that track where the plane is and what kind of shape it's in. Then, there are baggage systems and ticketing systems—and they're all separate. So you land, you wait at the baggage terminal, and it doesn't show up."

Ranadivé wants to link all the computers up so that they talk with each other. "What we can do is send you a text message the moment we know your bag didn't make it," Ranadivé said, "telling you we'll ship it to your house."

Now that would be a real innovation.

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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