Safer Air Travel: Separate Flights for Luggage?

Here’s an idea to help reduce the threat of terrorism against airplanes, and to speed up those long lines at airport security: Separate flights for luggage on high-risk routes.

For example, let’s say you are flying from NYC to LAX, a “high risk route.” When you check-in, before going through security, your bags are checked through to LAX. However, instead of going on your flight (or any other “passenger flight”) your bags (including all checked bags AND smaller “carry-on” bags too — no carry-ons are permitted on the passenger flight) are loaded onto an hourly “luggage flight” that only carries luggage. Every hour this luggage flight flies from NYC to LAX carrying all the luggage from all different airlines’ flights from NYC to LAX that was checked in in the previous hour. So everyone’s bags arrive at just about the time they arrive at LAX. Since there are no passengers on the luggage flight, if there happens to be a bomb in someone’s luggage it will have minimal effect (the pilots of the luggage flight, but not hundreds of passengers at least). Since the potential damage of blowing up such a flight is minimal, terrorists would not be likely to bother and so this would in turn reduce the chances of there being a bomb in any luggage on the NYC to LAX route — what would be the point of blowing up a flight full of luggage? And as a result of this, although luggage should still be scanned prior to being loaded onto the luggage flight, even if a bag was not scanned the chances would be very low that it would contain a bomb. Now as for the “passenger flight” since passengers would not be permitted to bring carry-ons on the flight (or would have to agree to go through mandatory extra-extensive 15 minute screening at security, if they elect to bring carry-ons), the job of airport security would be much simpler because most people would not elect to bring carryons (for passengers to have encough confidence to check what they would normally carry-on, the security of carry-ons that are checked onto the baggage flight must be guaranteed and insured to full value). This in turn would free up security personnel to spend more time doing body scan screening and identity checking, making the whole process of airport security more effective.

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10 Responses to Safer Air Travel: Separate Flights for Luggage?

  1. billy says:

    this makes lots of good sense

  2. carlos says:

    A good idea, but not realistic. Who would pay for these hourly flights that holds all of the airlines’ luggage? Seems like a lot of money might be spent on fuel over and above what is spent now. It also seems that it might be a logistical nightmare to coordinate these flights with the passenger flights. If you had a passenger flight delayed for whatever reason, you could have literally thousands of bags that the airport would have to be responsible for. Your bag could be in LAX but you could be stranded in Chicago.
    Great outside-of-the-box thinking, but IMHO, not really feasible.

  3. Interesting concept. But though you are decreasing the loss in terms of humans per flight, you might increase the risk of a terrorist planting a bomb or similar in the luggage. After all, there will be no risk for the terrorist himself to be blown up!

  4. Nova Spivack says:

    Good point BUT why would terrorists bother? What’s the point of blowing up a bunch of suitcases? Anyway, this threat could be counteracted by simply scanning the hell out of every suitcase before it goes onto the “baggage” flight. Furthermore, a suitcase would not be shipped on the baggage flight unless the associated person (owner) boarded the passenger flight. So if anything happened, that person would be responsible and would be captured ALIVE, which is actually much worse for the terrorists and better for the good guys (because they can the interrogate the terrorist and get more info). So actually the fact that the terrorist is not killed in such a scenario may in fact be worse from the terrorist’s perspective.

  5. Nova Spivack says:

    Carlos, yes you are correct that there are complexities but they might be solvable. Regarding the cost and fuel issues you raise: the airlines would save in costs for each passenger flight as the flight would not have to carry all that heavy baggage and could immediately go back into service (without having to load and unload each time it lands). The cost of the baggage flights would be shared by all the airlines in proportion to the weight they contribute in checked bags for each flight. Essentially it would be a co-op; and this would enable all airlines to save further costs by pooling their resources on security equipment, loading and unloading equipment, and lost baggage management. As for the scheduling coordination issue, passenger luggage would be routed all the way to their destination on a sequence of baggage flights. If the passenger flight was delayed this would be ok — they could pick up their bags upon arrival at their final destination. If for some reason the baggage flight was delayed this would be a problem for passengers — and the system would need to be designed to avoid this as much as possible, and to deliver late bags by messenger in the event that it happens. Another possibility to avoid this risk would be to pick up and ship checked bags the day before the passenger flight — this would allow for more time to screen them annd would virtually guarantee that they were always there on-time when the passenger arrived at their final destination. But this would incur an additional baggage pick-up fee (which could be figured into the passenger ticket price if they check bags). Advance baggage shipping pickup could be optional too — so passengers could elect to pay for it and ship their bags a day ahead if they were really concerned about the slight risk of having their bags delayed; otherwise they could just check their bags at the airport as usual if that slight risk was not a major concern.

  6. Well I think I speak for many people when I say that I, for one, no matter how much insurance was offered me would be unwilling to let certain items travel apart from me.
    So I would always want to have a carry-on, and it is unrealistic that women would leave behind their purses (money, identity, tampons, etc) and likewise most travelers would want to have something to read/do with them while traveling.
    I like the idea of a separate flight for larger baggage – but I would never check my briefcase with laptop and business files – no insurance in the world could compensate me for the loss.

  7. Amit says:

    Having played catchup on this blog, I’d like to add a late comment.
    The storage of luggage “in transit” and yet to be claimed at the destination side is an overlooked problem. There needs to be a warehousing system, with logistics to ensure delivered baggage is split between flights correctly.
    A second issue is additional logistics that increase costs – flight baggage to carousel is the norm, but now it could be flight baggage to storage warehouse to carousel, tough for already busy airports.
    A third issue is locality. As you rightly said, a “local” high risk route can be done, but if such a business arose, its growth is limited to a cluster of domains, like the US or Europe.
    Fourthly, there are many low cost carriers (I used one last week back to London), who partner and charter other airlines for planes of their own that are unavailable. This idea is good to present to big-name scheduled airlines, but it would take serious benefits for low cost carriers to adopt it.
    Fifth, it seems to me that this should be a standard “air cargo” company with a different kind of cargo. In which case you would research the viability of cargo – i.e. which cargo would be most profitable for a carrier – suitcases? cars? mail parcels? chemicals? FedEx, etc. have sussed it, and airlines already carry extra weight for mail companies in addition to passengers and their suitcases.

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