HEATHROW AIRPORT: BAGGAGE OPERATIONS

The airline or its handling agent is responsible for inputting bags into the baggage system at check-in; screening bags; collecting security screened bags and loading them onto aircraft; and retrieving bags from arriving aircraft and loading them onto baggage reclaim belts in the terminals. BAA is responsible for providing and operating the sophisticated mechanical baggage system, which transports, security screens and sorts the bags. Heathrow Airport has an automated baggage handling system which is comprised of over 30 miles of conveyors, two miles of tunnels and features the latest technology to safely sort and screen over 150,000 departing bags a day.
It is a resilient system, with multiple inbuilt contingencies and provides the best possible service to passengers.

The Heathrow baggage system has three main roles:
• To deliver bags from check-in to the departure gates
• To deliver bags from one gate to another during transfers
• To deliver bags to arriving passengers in the baggage reclaim area.

The journey of a bag through Heathrow
Departures
• At check-in, the airline agent prints a luggage tag and
attaches it to the bag. This contains a unique barcode and a
ten digit number which has details of the bag’s final destination and route.
• The bag enters the BAA baggage system and is read by a barcode scanner and automatically routed through the airport’s network of conveyors and junctions to a collection chute for processing by airline baggage handling staff.
• The bag passes through x-ray machines and other security devices to ensure it is screened to the highest possible standard.
• At the collection chute, a baggage handler, provided by the airlines, scans the bag’s barcode tag to create a record of the bag’s location and reconciles each item of luggage with the passenger manifest for security purposes.
• The handler then loads bags onto carts, which are driven out to the aircraft to load them into the hold.

Transferring bags
• Transfer bags are unloaded from the aircraft by airline baggage handlers and placed in the BAA baggage system, where they are scanned, screened and sorted for reloading onto the ongoing flight.
• Bags transferring between Terminals 1 and 4 are automatically transported through a 1,500 metre underground baggage tunnel.
• Bags travelling between the other terminals are transported through the airside network of roads and tunnels.

Arriving bags
• Bags arriving at Heathrow are unloaded from the aircraft by the airline baggage handling agent and transported to the terminal building where they are placed on the baggage reclaim belts.
• Each baggage hall has numerous baggage belts, which act as contingency when belts are being serviced.

Terminal 5 baggage system
• The Terminal 5 baggage system is the biggest, single-terminal baggage handling system in Europe. It is made up of two complementary systems, a main baggage handling system overlaid with a fast track system.
• Airline staff enter bags into the system at check-in desks, which feed a pair of tilt-tray sorters that deliver bags to the baggage hall. They are transferred to containers by airline baggage staff and driven to the aircraft for manual loading.
• A fast-track underground system links the main terminal with its satellites conveying time-critical bags to individual heads of stands, most of which have a delivery point close to the rear of the aircraft.
• Terminal 5 has an automated system, located in the basement, which can store up to 4,000 early bags. The robotically controlled system holds bags that are checked in three hours prior to a departure and are held until called out for flight make-up, at which point they are transferred to the main baggage hall.
• Incoming baggage terminating at Heathrow is taken to the baggage hall by airline handlers and loaded onto reclaim belts.

Heathrow improves baggage links with new automated transfer system
Heathrow Airport has installed a new automated baggage transfer system in a tunnel that links Terminals 3 and 5, to boost the reliability of baggage transfers.
BAA last year revealed plans to invest £900m in upgrading baggage technology and infrastructure at Heathrow, so that by 2014, each terminal’s baggage systems will be linked via a tunnel.
In BAA’s results for the year ended 31 December 2010, CEO Colin Matthews, said: “Significant progress has been made in renovating older terminals and we are investing nearly £250 million in a new baggage tunnel between Terminal 3 and Terminal 5 to speed up passengers’ journeys.”
The company reported a significantly reduced pre-tax loss
last year, of £316.6 million compared to a loss of £821.9 million in 2009.
A spokesperson for the company previously said that the baggage tunnels would help to improve the speed and reliability of baggage transfers. It followed serious baggage system problems experienced by BAA in June 2009, which resulted in Heathrow not being able to move bags for passengers changing flights at the terminal. IT systems controlling the baggage belts were not ruled out as a cause of the problem.
Meanwhile, BAA reported in its results that Heathrow’s baggage misconnect rate had improved from 19 per 1,000 passengers in 2009 to 18 per 1,000 passengers last year.
Heathrow recorded 65.7 million passengers in 2010, which means that 1,182,600 suffered a baggage misconnect in the year. Though a large number, it was an improvement on the 1,252,100 out of 65.9 million passengers the previous year.
“The improvement on 2009 is notable given the challenges faced during two periods of prolonged, severe winter weather in January and December and from the record levels of passenger traffic through the third quarter of 2010,” the airport operator said.
As well as working on integrating baggage systems, BAA said that other main projects last year included construction work on the new Terminal 2 and the near completion of Terminal 5C (the terminal’s second satellite building). More than £800 million was invested in Heathrow in 2010, which is expected to increase “substantially” over 2011 and 2012, as work on the construction of Terminal 2 expands.

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