A smarter track for baggage handling at Dubai International Airport

Dubai International Airport’s advanced baggage handling system enables operational excellence and a better guest experience

Background: Why invest in advanced logistics systems for baggage?

Dubai International Airport (DXB) serves an important hub between the United States, Europe, and Asia. It is one of the highest traffic airports by number of passengers in the world, with over 80M traveling in 2017, and future growth projections to reach 103M by 2020. The increasing scale of DXB poses a high level of operational complexity that warrants the use of highly digitalized platforms. Passengers utilize over 90 airlines to travel to more than 240 destinations on aircraft carrying 2.5M tonnes of cargo every year, and hold high expectations for a seamless experience from gate to gate.1

Poor experiences, such as those created by difficult baggage check-in procedures, security risks, and lost baggage, can lead passengers to choose alternative modes of transportation (e.g., car, train) or to utilize other airports for their travel.2 At a higher level, a lack of investment in DBX’s baggage systems could also lead their airline partners to choose to avoid DBX within their network planning when making decisions for future routes. Together these competitive growth opportunities and operational risks make a solid case for DBX to continue to invest in a well-integrated, advanced logistics systems for baggage.

Strategy: How is Dubai International Airport investing in baggage handling?

Dubai International Airport invested $700M to construct a high-speed track system with a sorting capacity of 15,000 pieces per hour. The process begins at check-in with auto-generated baggage tags that store information on passengers’ bag type, airline, and unique ID. Bags are deposited into yellow baggage trays with RFID technology that allow them to be closely tracked throughout the process as bags travel up to 85 miles in distance on conveyer belts from gate to aircraft. 3 Underlaying this advanced conveyer belt sorting structure is powerful warehouse management system that allows the airline to keep track of baggage flows throughout the system and make adjustments where necessary. 4

In the near-term DBX is continuing to invest in optimizing their baggage logistics system to mitigate against risk of system downtime which could otherwise result in flight delays and lost baggage at the expense of airlines, passengers, and DBX’s reputation for operational excellence and quality service. 5 Longer term, DBX must continue to think about their ability to scale systems to meet increases in passenger demand through Dubai and what that may mean for expansion efforts for serving new terminals or possibly even a new airport. 6

In addition to these steps, I’d urge DBX to think more broadly about how they can better anticipate demand on their system and incentivize passengers towards creating a more fluid operational environment. For example, DBX could offer a small food and beverage retail credit to passengers willing to check-in baggage a few hours earlier. DBX should also be proactive in gaining feedback from airlines on how they can better integrate operations to create efficiency and customer stickiness within their service offering. For example, integrating baggage data with airlines’ passenger data could help facilitate the transfer of mutually beneficial operational information (e.g., which passengers may have been re-routed and therefore need their bags to follow). These offerings would provide a huge value add in allowing airlines to save on operational costs and increase their passenger experience.

Future thinking: What’s next in the digitization of baggage?   

The technology currently being used at DBX has the potential for much wider applications that could better serve passengers, while also enhancing airport security and operational efficiency at DBX. To illustrate, I’ve provided two examples of potential opportunities below:

1. Home to destination baggage services: Could DBX utilize smart scanners and RFID technology to allow customers to send baggage straight from their homes? This could allow passengers to travel more seamlessly through the airport while sending the entire baggage process behind the scenes requiring even less human touch.

2. The next generation of smart baggage: What opportunities for partnership exist between airlines, airports, and consumer companies to create smarter bags? Enhanced baggage technology could allow a higher level of transparency regarding baggage location, weight, contents, and ownership throughout the journey.



[1] “Dubai International Airport Facts,” Dubai Airports Corporate Media Center, November 2017, [URL], accessed November 2017.

[2] Dale Fodness, Brian Murray, (2007) “Passengers’ expectations of airport service quality”, Journal of Services Marketing, Vol. 21 Issue: 7, pp.492-506

[3] “City in the Sky,” PBS, February 2017, [URL], accessed November 2017.

[4] “Siemens Baggage Handling System Dubai International,” Siemens Media Center, June 2013, [URL], accessed November 2017.

[5] “Dubai airport records 83.6 million passengers in 2016,” Gulf News: Aviation, January 2017, [URL], accessed November 2017.

[6] “Innovative Siemens software for end-to-end digitalization of air cargo processes in Dubai,” Siemens Media Relations, September 2016, [URL], accessed November 2017.


Walmart: Save Money. Live Better. Go Green?


UNIQLO: Transformation to a Digital Consumer Retail Company

Student comments on A smarter track for baggage handling at Dubai International Airport

  1. Madeline – great article on the digitalization of baggage. I appreciated your second question on how baggage can actually evolve over time to facilitate the travel process from a customer standpoint. We have seen many attempts to introduce data analytics and tracking technologies into a variety of consumer products (take the FitBit for instance). What do you think will happen to the digital tracking of bags through advanced baggage handling systems such as this once suitcases evolve beyond their current functionality (i.e. if suitcases had functionalities such as trackers and automated weighing scales built in)? Do you see room for integration as a baggage handler or rather for displacement from these consumer technologies?

  2. Madeline – a very interesting article, and a subject that I haven’t really given much thought to. As airports, airlines, and airplanes continue to make aesthetic and technical upgrades, the “behind the scenes” technology is often overlooked. I would agree that investing in those areas really will have a major impact on customer experience, profitability, and future growth potential.

    I like your ideas about incorporating technology into the baggage process, but I’ve sometimes wondered why airlines aren’t doing more to alleviate the bottleneck that is baggage check-in. If we can print our boarding passes at home, why can’t we print our baggage tags? Why has it taken so long for self-service baggage kiosks to make their way into airports, and even then, it’s the quirky folks over at Southwest Airlines doing it? If one of the biggest impediments to on-time departures is baggage loading, why aren’t airlines (and airports) continuing to innovate like DXB?

    With major renovations at a number of domestic airports (including my hometown airport of MCI), I’ll be curious what kinds of changes are taking place behind-the-scenes. Thanks for the insight.

  3. Madeline – great essay, I always love to read about innovations in the airline/airport industry.
    Given how often I waited for my luggage to arrive or even worse spent several days without my clothes, there is a definite need for innovation/change in this area.

    I find the idea of having your luggage picked up from your home very intriguing, however, I imagine that this might not be so much a tracking-related issue as more a logistical coordination issue. Nevertheless, a few years down the road with the introduction of self-driving cars, there might indeed be an opportunity.

    With regards to new luggage technology, there are some innovations that might be the first step towards your vision. Recently Rimowa introduced a piece of luggage with an electronic tag (a display that shows the destination incl. barcode) – see links:

    This reduces not only the need for human interaction as there is no physical tag on the bag but also helps to avoid complications that arise when the paper-based luggage tag is lost. Of course, this can only be considered a very early step, but it shows that the luggage manufacturers are definitely in line with your thinking of your operations can be further smoothened.

  4. This is a great application for digitalization, which may not be top of mind for most, but considering how complex airports are, it seems very necessary. Beyond DXB, I’d love to understand how possible it would be to implement the same technology across all airports, especially since bags will move from airport to airport among the many transfers that happen all over the world. It seems that the technology may need to be adopted and implemented at the airline level first. Your suggestion of home to destination baggage service is interesting, especially with the above comment on autonomous vehicles helping enabling this type of service. I see the role of technology here as a way to build trust with customers. The current airport and baggage system has left many customers skeptical about the process, and to have them separate from their luggage for longer than necessary is not something many are willing to do. With baggage tags and RFID tracking put in place however, customers can see where their bags are during transportation, and this will likely change behavior and sentiments around the airport baggage system.

  5. DXB has taken the initiative to improve the customer experience for its travelers. My open question here is who owns this problem? The consumer holds the airline most responsible if bags are lost or flights are delayed. Also, technologies are emerging where the consumer can use GPS technology to track their bag in real time. (1) If it’s a joint problem for a common cause, how can everyone complement each other to provide a seamless travel experience? Having comfort in the fact that both you and your bag are both on every flight before take-off, knowing when you can expect your bag to come down the shoot at baggage claim, and easily retrieving your luggage when you’ve missed your connection, are all real-world scenarios that add to the hassle of travel. While the long-term solution could be RFID and an integrated airline smartphone app, in the short-term travel-savvy consumers are likely to take matters into their own hands and have GPS trackers fill the void that airlines and airports haven’t.

    1 https://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/flights/2016/11/13/lost-luggage-tracking-technology/93607748/

  6. I am excited by Dubai International Airport’s idea of a smart baggage tracking system – it provides value to both the airport / airlines and the customers. This tracking system allows real-time visibility of where one’s baggage is, and will reduce labor and time required to deal with lost baggage as well as customer complaints. In addition, using this tracking system may help to improve the overall process of baggage handling systems, moving the baggage from check-in point to the airplane loading point, and moving the baggage from the airplane to the baggage claim are. The tracking system should be further developed to increase efficiency of the physical flow, by identifying and fixing the bottleneck of the process especially during peak hours when there is delay moving from one point to another.

Leave a comment