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.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Just flew American this month and I appreciated how they provided bag status along with flight status within their app. Also at check-in I viewed the agent scanning the bag tags. The Apple AirTag trackers I placed confirmed that their tracking system info was correct. I don’t recall other airlines doing this.

  2. The America West posse continues to degrade the flying experience for the country. Sigh.

  3. I’m a CK with American, travel out of MIA weekly, and have almost 10 million miles on them. I can guarantee they are “cooking the books” to reach that 63% figure you cited above. In my 22 years of flying out of MIA I have NEVER ONCE received my bag within 20 minutes. That claim is simply nonsensical.

  4. It’s worth noting that AA consistently is at or near the bottom of the DOT’s list of airlines with the highest rate of mishandled bags. In May, AA mishandled over 200, 000 bags for a rate of 0.86 per 100 bags – meaning an AA passenger has just under a 1 in 100 chance of being separated from their bag.
    It is hard to imagine that with that many mishandled bags, the economics of getting better technology don’t outweigh the cost of all of those mishandled bags.
    And JetBlue is indeed pretty close to AA in its bag handling performance and, to alot of people’s surprise, Alaska is usually in the bottom half of the industry.

    and Delta did not put it all of its baggage tracking automation overnight but it is impressive to see how well they reroute bags with the passenger

  5. Can you just imagine the repercussions if FedEx mishandled .86% of their packages.

  6. Better technology only helps if you are just on AA

    I had a bag lost 75 days between AA and Iberia

    The technology between them is terrible at best

  7. While there is a lot of praise for Delta here. I must say that as a million miler with all of the big 3 (DL,AA,UA) my personal experience has been the most damaged bags with Delta. AA and DL are neck and neck for delayed bags. United has consistently been the best for me.

    The (MIA)mi example is not a good one. MIA is always late to the belt. (DL makes it easy to compensate with their 20 min delay guarantee. (I claimed it 2x this month in MIA). AA is no better or worse then the others. UA still has not found my bag lost in Milan since July5 th they are not perfect either. These are all 1st world problems.

  8. Have to say, I had a pretty seamless delayed bag experience last week. Was connecting off AS onto AA and went to AC to get on the earlier flight to MIA. Bag of course took the original later flight. Got notification when I landed, so I was able to skip disastrous MIA baggage claim and went straight home to sleep. Bag was delivered 10 hours later no issues. Was kinda worth it in the end.

  9. ACVitale,
    as much as we all to think that the world looks the way it looks to each of us, the simple fact is that American has consistently been a lower performer on an aggregate and statistical basis than its most direct peers, including Delta.
    It isn’t a surprise that the best performers in baggage handling are much more heavily point to point carriers rather than the hub and spoke carriers – Delta is typically in the top half of the industry but it is not the best. Delta has invested alot more in baggage tracking technology than American and it does show in the statistics that mean far more than anyone’s anecdotes when you carry more than 100 million passengers per year.

    and the vast, vast majority of bags American carries are to/from AA and AA regional flights. Not fixing the largest part because a minority of bags won’t benefit is the height of bad excuses.

  10. WHAT IS YOUR BEEF WITH AA?
    GET OVER IT!
    FLEW SEVERAL MISERABLE DELTA FLIGHTS THIS SUMMER!
    YOU NEVER MENTIONED THE DELTA SUMMER OF HELL!
    ALL MY AA FLIGHTS RAN ON TIME!

  11. I probably shouldn’t say this because Murphy’s Law and all, but I have been flying AA since I was a brand new teacher out of college 20-something years ago and never once, from economy and no tech to last week in First when the conveyor belt was broken and there were delays so I wasn’t sure if the bags would even track when I had to set them in a pile in ORD, not ONCE have my bags ever NOT arrived either on time or even EARLIER than I did (twice they went on earlier flights because either I had an overnight layover or I was on standby and my bag made the flight but I didn’t! I picked the bags up in the baggage office in both cases).

    I might even note that on one flight I saw two stickers on my bag–mine and another guy’s; it had been accidentally stuck on mine. My bag could have easily been sent to the wrong location and STILL got there. I get that you are a former debater and make money and headlines criticizing and playing devil’s advocate, but frankly, I’d rather have AA mostly getting it right than Alaska thinking I would pay them ~$70 PLUS a baggage fee. You watch, bags will STILL be mishandled. AA makes me baking mad at times, and bags need to come out a lot faster, but at least they arrive with me.

  12. I quit flying AA for good after they lost 2 airplanes and 5 bags in a 3 week period. One of the bags took 6 weeks to get back to me. It sat in CLT for a week, got delivered to my former hotel in Topeka, then off to Dallas, then BOS. I use Tile trackers. Last year I flew 50k+ miles on Delta and never had a missed bag, even with some last minute reroutes due to canceled/delayed flights. UA does typically go where I need to so I seldom fly them. I really don’t care what the statistics are, I care what happens to me. I will probably now get screwed.

  13. @ Tim Dunn

    LOL DL just had to add an extra segment and ferry back a plane full of lost bags , so cram it !

  14. @John Luffred

    Because people have nothing better to do than complain and make others look bad it makes their own miserable lives feel better.

  15. Tim j,
    and that will be reflected in DL’s baggage stats.
    Don’t be so sensitive to easily verifiable facts
    you do realize that Gary himself made comparisons? – I just added the color of data.

  16. I thought it was illegal for your luggage to be on a different flight following the Lockerbie incident…

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