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Inside Look: United Debuts America’s First Airline-Owned Early Baggage System

The new facility is designed to improve baggage delivery reliability and has a processing capacity of 80,000 bags per day.

An overview of United’s Early Baggage System at Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Andrew Chen)

United Airlines’ Early Baggage System (EBS) at George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) in Houston has gone live, marking the opening of the first-of-its-kind system in the United States. The new facility – which is the first privately owned early baggage system in the country – became operational earlier this month and is now processing up to 80,000 bags per day.

A New State-of-the-Art Baggage System

The EBS is a processing and storage system that stores bags from passengers who have arrived early for their flights or have long layovers at the airport. During irregular operations that lead to delays and cancellations, bags belonging to delayed passengers can also be stored at the EBS facility.

The system consists of an intricate network of tracks, trays, storage shelves and supporting structures. With a throughput of 40 bags per minute – meaning that it can accept 40 bags and release 40 bags each minute – the EBS places each bag on a tray that moves throughout the system. Throughout the system, there are a total of 3,476 trays – with each one having the ability to hold one bag – and a total of 3,300 storage spots. A sophisticated computer system tracks each bag and releases them based on flight times.

Inside United’s new Early Baggage System at IAH (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Andrew Chen)

Built in a six-story building that sits above a terminal access road, the EBS facility is a new structure that is connected to IAH’s Terminal C. The $90 million EBS was constructed as part of a larger $365 million replacement of the Terminal C and Terminal E baggage system.

Although the EBS is physically connected to the baggage systems for Terminal C and Terminal E, bags from all terminals can be sent to the facility. The EBS operates a crew of approximately four to seven people, including one system subject matter expert and one supervisor.

United’s new Early Baggage System at IAH, as seen from the ground level (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Andrew Chen)

United’s EBS was designed by German technology conglomerate Siemens AG, which has also installed similar systems at airports including Kuala Lumpur International Airport and Seoul Incheon International Airport.

Reducing Lost and Delayed Baggage

According to Paul Young, United’s Facility/Bag System Manager at IAH, the threshold for bags to be sent to the EBS is two hours, meaning that bags that arrive at the airport early by two hours or more will be sent to the facility.

Some of the 3,476 trays and 3,300 storage spots in United’s new Early Baggage System at IAH (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Andrew Chen)

During a visit to the EBS, Young told AirlineGeeks that bags that arrived early would previously be sent to the bag room at the departure concourse for the bag’s next flight, leaving them more prone to missing the flight. Airline bag rooms can rely heavily on manual processing, exposing bags to a higher risk of being missed, misplaced or forgotten.

The EBS is expected to address these challenges, as the system stores bags in a computer-tracked system that prioritizes the release of baggage according to flight time. To further increase the efficiency and reliability of the airline’s baggage delivery at IAH, the EBS is also able to automatically release bags early in the event that a passenger changes their flight.

Andrew Chen


  • Andrew Chen

    Andrew is a lifelong lover of aviation and travel. He has flown all over the world and is fascinated by the workings of the air travel industry. As a private pilot and glider pilot who has worked with airlines, airports and other industry stakeholders, he is always excited to share his passion for aviation with others. In addition to being a writer, he also hosts Flying Smarter, an educational travel podcast that explores the complex world of air travel to help listeners become better-informed and savvier travelers.

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