Photo: Urs Maurer - Kontrollzentrum 2 images

How does my suitcase get onto my flight?

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Have you ever asked yourself this question? We took a look behind the scenes.

Your suitcase’s adventure begins at check-in. Here the bag (or bulky item) is given a label with a barcode on it. This barcode contains all the details of the item concerned: its weight, destination, flight number and any transfer airport, along with the passenger’s name.

The item now disappears into the baggage sorting facility. At Zurich this is the responsibility of Flughafen Zürich AG, the airport operator. Here the bag is scanned using laser technology. So as you make your way to your departure gate, your bag will be speeding through various transport systems at up to 36 kilometres an hour to its loading station at one of the three main sorting centres. (photo below on the right-hand side)
In the process the bag will be channelled via an automatic sorting system which extends to some 25 kilometres and winds at multiple levels through the airport’s underworld. The whole system of belts, sorting machines and high-speed container facilities is driven by some 4,300 motors and guided by 4,500 sensors. And the entire process is carefully monitored by control room personnel. (photo above on the left-hand side)

The system sees it all
“We know precisely where each bag is in the system at any time,” says Urs Mauerer , Deputy Head of the Baggage Sorting Facility. Computers use the bag’s barcode to send it to its final sorting destination, one of the three main sorting centres. From here it will be taken to its flight: either on a baggage train or in a container, depending on the aircraft.
The same procedure is used for all baggage for flights departing from Zurich. Incoming baggage with Zurich as its final destination is taken directly from the aircraft to one of the two baggage reclaim centres (at Arrivals 1 or 2), where it is loaded onto the corresponding carousels.

Careful inspections, too
Needless to say, every bag is inspected by X-ray. The only exception to this is baggage from points in the EU and the USA whose standards comply with international (EU and FOCA audit) requirements. If the system detects any contents that should not be transported in registered baggage, an alarm will be triggered and the item concerned will be routed out to undergo a closer manual inspection by specialist staff. If nothing dangerous or prohibited is found here, the item will be returned to the system. If this is not the case, the item will be removed from the system and its owner duly informed.

Video: Zurich Airport has produced a video of the baggage sorting system (in German only).

Information
If you’d like to see the Zurich Airport baggage sorting process for yourself, Swissport offers guided tours of the facility for groups of six or more.
For details call +41 43 812 0707 or send an email to zrh.tours@swissport.com.


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