British Airways Introduces Automated Baggage Carts In London

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British Airways is introducing autonomous baggage carts at its home airport, London Heathrow. The baggage carts are designed to reduce customer delays by optimising the baggage process.

British Airways, Baggage Carts, Automation
British Airways is introducing autonomous baggage carts at London Heathrow. Photo: British Airways

Every day, British Airways handles around 75,000 bags at its home at London Heathrow. The airline is based in Terminal 5, however, also operates a few flights out of other terminals each day. Obviously, coordinating all of these bags can be a huge logistical challenge. However, British Airways has a little trick up its sleeves to help simplify the process. That little trick is called automation.

How will it work?

Every bag that travels in the hold of an aircraft should have a bag tag. With the exception of some gate-checked bags, these typically carry large barcodes containing information on the bag’s destination and scheduled flights. These then travel through the baggage system at the airport where they are loaded onto a cart to be delivered to the aircraft.

The operator of the baggage carts typically waits until all of the bags have arrived to save making multiple journeys. However, with each automated baggage cart, known as a dolly, able to operate independently, they can head to the appropriate aircraft as soon as each one is full.

British Airways, Baggage Carts, Automation
The carts depart for the aircraft on an individual basis when full. Photo: British Airways

The dollies have memorised the airport and will know which route to take to reach the appropriate gate. Using artificial intelligence, they also work out which route would be quickest, rather than unnecessarily following a predetermined route.

The vehicles are emission-free and come at a time when British Airways’ owner has committed to becoming a net-zero emissions airline group by 2050. As part of this commitment earlier this month we saw the airline announce that all domestic flight bookings will be carbon offset from January.

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Does automation have any issues?

While new technology is certainly exciting, it does raise a couple of concerns. The largest in this instance being safety while operating around aircraft. Surely, the carts will be programmed to avoid aircraft.

While the roads between terminals at Terminal 5 are largely underground, according to satellite imagery there are two roads crossing taxiways between Terminal 5B and 5C. What happens if the cart goes rogue and doesn’t realise its path crosses that of an aircraft?

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British Airways, Baggage Carts, Automation
No overtaking, please! Photo: British Airways

Additionally, without a baggage container on top, the low to the ground vehicles could potentially be easily missed. As such, British Airways appears to be adopting unmissable no overtaking signs onboard the vehicles.

It is likely that these issues have already been considered in great detail by British Airways before the carts made it anywhere near an airport. Given the significance of any potential incident, the airline would have made sure that this could not happen first. In fact, a representative of the airline told Simple Flying:

“As with all our operations, safety is always our priority and will be a key focus for the trial.”

We can’t wait to see how the trial pans out. Do you think it will be a success? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

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