“Did you ever notice that the first piece of luggage on the carousel never belongs to anyone?”
Miss you already, Puerto Vallarta
Carmela and I just returned from a romantic vacation in Mexico’s Puerto Vallarta.
While we went all carry-on for the flight from Toronto there, we checked a bag for the return trip (who knew tequila weighed that much?) and found ourselves in the usual baggage carousel scrum.
Not enough there there
I am quite certain I am not the first traveller to think the baggage carousel experience could do with an improvement. Travel is a great opportunity to get away from it all, but the 40 Principles now follow me everywhere I go, inspiring ideas on how to improve the products and systems I encounter.
If you’ve ever gone through a big airport with checked bags, you are probably familiar with the baggage carousel. Luggage from the belly of the plane is brought by unseen mechanisms and workers to a conveyor belt that drops each piece onto a segmented steel circuit upon which the luggage keeps going round and round until it is identified and retrieved by (hopefully) its owner.
The main problem with this is that there is limited perimeter to the carousel, and a large flight will have over 300 travellers. These people can’t all see the luggage at once, and may in fact be watching other people’s luggage go round and round while obscuring the view for others.
Another problem is that with everybody huddled around the carousel, if you do manage to see your luggage you need to be sure about it and then heave it off the carousel without knocking over anybody around you. The bags can be heavy and they carry a lot of momentum as they move along the carousel. It strikes me that there must be a few injuries that result from this, either from someone hurting their back lifting the bag, or knocking over others nearby.
One solution would be to have mirrors (Principle 24 – Intermediary) above the carousel that would help people see their luggage below while standing behind the crowd at the carousel. This would at least reduce the urgency of standing right against the carousel, and thin the crowd enough that one could scoop the luggage while walking alongside of it, rather than trying to seize it as it goes by while standing still.
Instead of mirrors, how about a set of monitors that display the bags as they rotate past a specific point, say 12 o’clock on the track? This would draw the crowd away from the carousel. Principle 1 – Segmentation
Fight for your right
This website estimates that the majority of of baggage carousels that rotate in one direction rotate counterclockwise. This is, ahem, counterintuitive. It means that if you are walking alongside your bag you need to grab it with your left hand. I imagine it is prohibitive to reverse the rotation of existing conveyors (the steel panels on the ones I am familiar with overlap in a directional pattern), but can we resolve to make all new ones clockwise? Sorry lefties, you are outnumbered. Principle 13 – The Other Way Round
Wave of the future
The most obvious solution is to improve passenger awareness and use RFID or barcode scanning to give end-to-end awareness of where bags are conveyed either to screens in the airport or your phone.
This involves quite a bit of infrastructure but given how Amazon has shaped our expectations, I think travellers will come to demand a system that let’s them know their bag is now on the carousel so they can time retrieving it. Principle 23 – Feedback
So, no carousel?
All the above ideas are alterations to the existing baggage carousel design. What if we dispense withe carousel altogether?
Just in time
When we checked our bag the passenger service agent put a barcode strap on our bag and a matching barcode on our boarding pass.
It would be nice if (again using Amazon and its elaborate package handling apparatus as a model) we could walk up to a location, scan our barcode and have only our bag pop out at that location. Principle 23 – Feedback
This would all but eliminate injury and make clearing the airport faster (an advantage for travellers and the airport management alike), but involve a substantial investment.