The future of baggage at Toronto Pearson

Posted: 20 March 2023 | | No comments yet

International Airport Review Editor Holly Miles, sat down with Darin Juby, Director of Baggage Services at Greater Toronto Airport Authority, at the Future Travel Experience Global 2022 in Las Vegas to talk about his vision for the future of baggage at his airport and the industry.

Canadian airports, as well as airports around the world, have been featured in the news for long delays, baggage pile ups, and workforce shortages.

The summer of recovery from COVID has been very challenging for every airport across the world, but in particular global hubs like Toronto Pearson. Catching up with Darin Juby, Director of Baggage Services at Greater Toronto Airport Authority, he said: “The overall airport system saw traffic return stronger than most people predicted. That, coupled with labour shortages and the ability for aircraft ultimately to arrive on time, is what has really caused the majority of the baggage issues. The reality is that when flights are off-schedule and there are many transfers, often those aircraft are arriving after their connection flight has left, and when that happens, you’ve got people and bags that have to be re-flighted. Sometimes there is not enough room on the next flight for the passengers and/or the bags or there’s simply not a flight that day. It’s a bit of a snowball effect.”

The collateral of this is that the public has lost trust in checked luggage. The baggage handling department’s next challenge is working to rebuild that trust.

“There’s still many people that proudly tell me they don’t check their bags, even when they know I work in baggage. We need to change that mindset, where passengers really trust in checking a bag the same way that they trust receiving packages from delivery services.”

The latter part of summer was much better than the start of summer, but Darin’s team were certainly busy during this challenging time working to try to alleviate this pressure point.

All hands on deck

Darin is a fan of analogies and said: “A baggage system is similar to a car. During COVID, we didn’t drive it much, it was in the garage, it was operating, but it was driving to the grocery store as opposed to driving in Formula 1 every day. When we kicked off the summer, we took the car to the racetrack and drove it full speed, and, as you might expect, things happen, and it didn’t take us long to correct those things. When you first get it up to speed for that amount of time, things pop and break and we fix them and we responded, sometimes faster than others.”

In the last few years, we’ve put a focus on the human-centred aspect of baggage and how we can give our colleagues more information to be able to do their job”

Unfortunately, when the baggage system wasn’t operating properly, they had to solve this as quickly as possible and that meant recruiting manual labour quickly.

Darin even rolled up his sleeves and helped move bags himself, as did his team and the airlines.

“To be honest, doing the manual labour was motivating. As much as we don’t want to be in those stressful situations when we have to work manually, it can build momentum and collaboration… Baggage handling is not the sole responsibility of one party, it’s not one airline or airport or contractor, it’s the sum of all the parts and that’s what makes bags move.”

Stepping into the shoes of your colleagues helps you understand their challenges better, and Darin definitely agrees with this: “In the last few years, we’ve put a focus on the human-centred aspect of baggage and how we can give our colleagues more information to be able to do their job. However, that’s not always an easy thing to do. You can apply a lot of technology to a process like baggage, but people need to use it and see the benefit of it.”

For example, during the pandemic, GTAA had a lot of downtime to run proof of concepts (POCs) and bring things to market and put them into operation much faster. GTAA, working with its airline partners and suppliers, put into operation cutting-edge information display screens, giving the ground handler more information about what bags are coming, where the bags are, how many are left. This has gone one step further with gamification, fireworks going off on the screen as a celebration once the last bag is scanned, and this year the screens went sports-style with football or hockey pucks scoring in the net.

Lessons learned

When asked what lessons he has learnt from summer 2022, Darin said: “We learned that we have to be much better, we need to operate differently, we need to use different technologies and share information, understanding where people’s bags are, how the flow of bags are when someone has it, when the airport gives it back to the airline and vice-versa.”

The big piece that is going to change, and Darin’s personal belief, is communication with passengers. “There’s a lot of discussion around when is the best time to inform the passenger if you know the bag is not on the flight? Do you do it in flight? Do you do it on arrival? What we definitely should not have is someone waiting at the carousel for an hour, the bag not showing up, and subsequently queuing up to make a claim. They may not be happy that the bag didn’t make the flight, however, at least if they have some confidence that the industry knows where it is and will get it to them, that’ll be an obvious improvement over what we used to do in the past.”

Future trends

Darin has his eye on new emerging technology both from his role at Toronto Pearson and well as the Head of the Future Travel Experience Baggage Innovation Working Group (BIWG). The BIWG is a unique group of over 60 airlines, airports and industry partners that meet monthly to discuss the challenges of baggage and work collectively to shape the future of the baggage journey through discussion and proof of concepts in real airport and airline “labs”.

What will be disrupting the industry most in the future? With new technology comes more questions.

There’s still many people that proudly tell me they don’t check their bags, even when they know I work in baggage. We need to change that mindset, where passengers really trust in checking a bag the same way that they trust receiving packages from delivery services”

“Paper tags on bags have been around for a long time. There’s lots of talk about electronic bag tags that provide additional information as well as the imaging of bags. As an industry, we can use a baggage image to do a multitude of things. Is it a way to track bags? Is it a way to sort bags? Could it replace the tag one day? Can it help find bags that are lost? Can it help to claim bags? Can we help with processing as you cross borders? The possibilities are endless.”

For Darin, some of the data already exists, but in the future, it will be about enhancing that information. “Not only do you have the details of where the bag is going, the name, the city where it was processed, processing positions, but also what the bag looks like on the outside, or maybe even what it looks like on the inside. How can we one day share that information to make the passenger’s journey more seamless so that we get the bag there 100 per cent of the time?”

Other trends that are on Darin’s radar are the possibility of autonomous vehicles, loading aircraft differently and the question on how we move bags in the future?

Traditionally we’ve always moved the one airplane with passengers. Is that always going to be the way? Could we be shipping bags in advance to locations? These are all questions that Darin considers.

“I believe that as a society, we’ve become very open to using, and buying from companies such as Amazon. As such, the way that we operate has changed, so might that apply to baggage? Maybe. Could bags show up in advance of passengers? Do they have to go on the passenger aircraft? Could they go via FedEx or other cargo carriers? Perhaps. We’re just at early stages of talking about that. But one thing’s certain: it will change and evolve.”

Baggage growth and capacity

To accommodate strong forecasted growth in the next 10 years, and to improve capacity, reliability, and efficiency at the airport, GTAA is embarking upon an ambitious upgrade to Toronto Pearson’s baggage handling operations, with an automated system.

Speaking about the project Darin said: “We’ve almost finished phase one of three. We’ve created a new baggage control room – a baggage ‘brain’ if you will. The brain was important because we needed to upgrade that to run our five systems, give us more data, more visualisation, allow better operation and – to use the analogy again – drive the car better. We added early bag stores that allow us to control where early bags go, to make it more efficient at the makeup positions, and that opened in one of our terminals. We were 90 per cent complete on a larger one in the other terminal, the building is built and all the equipment is onsite. So, we will start to install that later this year and open in early 2024. Following this, we’ll start working on the subsequent phases, and we’ll start joining systems together. Our goal is to then have all of our five systems interconnected.”

The future of baggage at Toronto Pearson

Baggage numbers will continue to rise as traffic comes back, but from a future innovation perspective, GTAA will look first to optimise what they have.

“We were always working on optimisation, it wasn’t a direct reaction to the return of travel. We need to share data and learn from it so that we have a solid plan. We then measure our plan, and make a better plan. We use real time information to have the best operation of the day.”

Airports must also ensure employees are using all of the useful information that is available to them, for example you probably do not use 80 per cent of what your iPhone does and “from a baggage perspective, we’ve given a lot of information, a lot of tools, to our airlines and our own staff as well as baggage handlers. We must also make sure that they understand how to use it and how to get full use out of it.”

Bags are not humans

According to Juby what’s different about baggage, compared to passengers, is that passengers need wayfinding and they stop for lunch and to shop. With bags, almost like packages, you can accelerate their progress, you can hold them in areas, you can direct them different places. “We have a lot of flexibility and in that way we can do some really creative and innovative things.”

Darin is also looking to other industries for inspiration and synergies such as delivery services, warehousing or manufacturing.

“Manufacturing is probably one of the biggest areas where baggage is learning from, the baggage system is essentially a line that builds cars. There’s lots of things that those industries do differently to us that we could learn from to become more efficient and more automated. I believe more of that will come.”


Darin Juby

Darin Juby is an experienced humanistic leader who champions optimisation and innovation within airport operations at Toronto Pearson Airport. After spending decades in numerous roles at Pearson – including airside operations, terminal operations, air traffic control and planning – Juby has a unique ability to connect the entire flow of the airport, from kerbside to the air. In his current role as Director of Baggage Services, Juby and his team have transformed the way that bags move through Toronto Pearson and have delivered a dependable and resilient baggage operation for its customers.