British Airways trials electronic baggage tag

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By Raymond Kollau,                                                                                          article updated December 2013

British Airways is trialling an electronic baggage tag which will remove the need to attach a new paper tag each time a traveller flies and speed up passenger check-in times at the airport. The airline estimates the new system can cut baggage drop-off times to about 35 seconds from the 3 minutes it routinely takes now.

How it works
BA’s electronic bag-tag can be used by passengers who have their booking details sent to their smart-phone using the BA app. Passengers then use their smartphone to check in, choose their seat and obtain their mobile boarding pass. The app then automatically updates the digital bag-tag with a unique barcode, containing new flight details and an easy-to-see view of their bag’s destination just by holding the phone over it. Each time the passenger flies, the electronic bar code on the tag changes.

Each electronic bag-tag carries a special computer chip and has two small mini-computer screens on each side, similar to those on an iPhone or Kindle ‘e-reader’ device. At check-in, passengers hold their smartphone, carrying their booking details, over the tag. The phone then transmits these details wirelessly to the tag, which then displays them on the mini-screens in the form of a bar-code and in summary form as written words.

The electronic screens ‘fix’ the image on the tag for the duration of the trip – allowing it to be scanned electronically when going through luggage handling at departure, on to the plane, and through to the luggage collection carousel in the arrivals.  Only when the customer checks onto a new flight will the bar code be changed and updated for that service.

BA says the high-tech tag can be used ‘time and time again’ with a different bar-code programmed for each new flight. The battery switches off once the image is ‘fixed’ and will last around five years.

Paper tickets will still be offered, although BA says the electronic tag is designed to require only a hand-held scanner so the service can be provided at any airport. The electronic tags have been specially developed by BA in partnership with Densitron Displays, and Designworks Windsor, while Heathrow Airport is providing help with the trials.

BA has tested 100 prototypes of the device on corporate flights between London Heathrow T5 and Seattle in a month-long trial during August 2013. Employees from Microsoft using Nokia Lumia Windows Phones have been selected to take part as the first passenger guinea-pigs, using a specially adapted version of the British Airways app.

BA says that eventually a consumer version will be available for use on flights worldwide. Passengers will have to purchase the digital tags from BA, but as yet no price has been announced.

Qantas ‘Q Bag Tag’
BA’s trial follows Qantas’ introduction of its ‘Q Bag Tag’ in mid-2010. The airline provided its frequent flyers with two personalised electronic RFID-embedded tags that are linked to their loyalty account and hold the passenger and current flight information. The electronic tag replaces the printed baggage tag for checked luggage, and all passengers have to do is deliver their Q Bag-tagged luggage at a self-service bag drop point.

The Q Bag Tag also makes it easier to locate a bag and remove it from an aircraft if needed in a few minutes – a process which previously led to lengthy delays with printed bag tags.


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