Air France-KLM’s ‘e-tag & e-track’ turns suitcases into connected devices

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This article originally appeared on Future Travel Experience, the travel industry forum focused on enhancing the passenger experience on the ground and up in the air.

By Ryan Ghee, Future Travel Experience

Over the last 12 months, interest in permanent bag tags has increased apace as the viability of the concept has been proved, and Air France-KLM has this week launched the latest innovation in this field. The permanent bag tag, called eTag, and the eTrack tracking device have been developed by the airline alongside FastTrack Company, Samsonite and Dutch telco KPN with significant input also coming from Delta Air Lines.

eTag & eTrack
The eTag is an electronic baggage label that includes two e-ink displays and that attaches to the outside of the suitcase, while eTrack is placed inside the luggage. In addition, a limited edition suitcase – the Samsonite Track & Trace, which includes embedded eTag and eTrack devices – has been revealed.

Speaking to FTE, Manuel van Lijf, Manager Product Innovation, Air France-KLM, explained: “We’ve worked closely with our suppliers and with Delta to try to make this an industry initiative, not just an airline initiative, and we’ve had involvement from SkyTeam too and kept them updated throughout the process.

“We thought it would be useless to just develop something for us – we wanted to develop something that will benefit the industry and the passengers. The idea was to create a product that can be used by a passenger flying with Air France, KLM, Delta, Lufthansa or another airline, for instance. Why would a passenger buy a permanent tag that can only be used on one airline?”

FTE Editor Ryan Ghee was given a preview of the eTag, eTrack and Samsonite Track & Trace suitcase by Air France-KLM’s Manuel van Lijf and FastTrack Company’s Founder & CTO Graham Kelly; CEO Arthur Lahr; and Founder & CFO David van Hoytema.

GSM, GPS, Bluetooth, electronic ink
eTrack makes use of GSM, GPS and Bluetooth technology, which enables it to be tracked by a smartphone, while eTag also utilises Bluetooth. Passengers with a Flying Blue account can link the eTag and eTrack devices to their account, so when they check-in online, the permanent bag tag will be automatically updated within just five seconds.

The tag communicates with the outside world via the eTrack device, and directly with smartphones using Bluetooth, but the two products can also be used independently.

“Bluetooth technology is used worldwide, so it makes sense for us to use it,” van Lijf stated. “With things like NFC (Near Field Communication), you would need to use more antennas, which would mean the tag would have to be bigger. We could add NFC later, but Bluetooth works fine.”

The eTag includes two e-ink displays and attaches to the outside of the suitcase, while the eTrack tracking device is placed inside the suitcase.

Passenger demand
While Air France-KLM and its partners initially set out to develop just a permanent bag tag, the tracking device was added in response to demand from travellers. “The passengers really wanted the tracker,” van Lijf continued. “Track and trace was a number one demand among passengers.” Having held focus groups with travellers, it was clear that the size of the permanent bag tag was also important, and while the prototype FTE previewed was relatively compact, the final product will be even smaller.

Final tweaks are still being made to eTag, eTrack and the Samsonite suitcase, and Air France-KLM will be testing the eTag and eTrack devices later this year and is awaiting certification which it expects to receive early next year. The plan is for a small, select group of travellers to start trialling the products before they are gradually made available on a larger scale.

In terms of an initial rollout, it is likely that the tag will be offered to high value, frequent travellers, but in the longer term the bulk of eTag and eTrack devices will probably be used by customers who have actively purchased them. Considering Air France recently launched home-printed bag tags, van Lijf said the permanent tag could appeal to lots of frequent flyers, while the home-printed tags could be more popular among those who fly less frequently.

Early 2015
Although we may have to wait ten months to see the eTag and eTrack, as well as the Samsonite Track & Trace, in action, FTE is excited to see how they perform in a live environment. We are equally pleased with the way Air France-KLM, Delta Air Lines, FastTrack Company, Samsonite and the other companies involved in its development have sought to create a solution that will benefit all airlines and all passengers, not just a select few. It may have been evident for some time now that permanent bag tags will revolutionise the baggage process, but this latest development makes it very clear that this revolution is not very far away at all.

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