Efforts to roll out the permanent bag tag are gathering pace

Remembering to remove the paper bag tags from your suitcase before you embark on your next trip may soon become a thing of the past.  As early as the end of 2014 could see permanent bag tags widely offered. Available in different hard-wearing forms and with a variety of robust attachments, the permanent tag promises to deliver yet another improvement to the passenger experience.

Information for each journey will be uploaded to the tag via smartphone or at the airport and will look much like the paper tags in existence, including a 1-D baggage barcode. The tag will then be paired with a traveler’s itinerary, ensuring the bag gets to the right destination.

This doesn’t mean the tag is limited to one owner or one suitcase, however. A passenger is at liberty to allow someone else to use the tag as all the crucial information is only loaded prior to travel. Besides being non-associative, the tag doesn’t contain any personal information as that is held in another database. It only holds its unique ID. While airlines could use the tag today and take fuller advantage of the features when they are ready, work is ongoing to ensure the comprehensive connectivity that will allow the potential of the tag to be fulfilled.

There are technical challenges with working on different NFC implementations, for example. NFC is not yet standardized across the world and yet the tags must be able to work as well in Asia as they do in Europe. IATA has set up a Permanent Tag Working Group involving airlines and suppliers to help smooth the transition to permanent bag tags. The aim has been to establish the standards behind the development as all airlines need to be able to read and share this data, critical to the interline baggage processes. Airports have also been included in these discussions to ensure compatibility with existing infrastructure. Heathrow and Seattle-Tacoma are among those that have been involved in the development of permanent tags.

Permanent tags will therefore allow passengers to transfer between carriers and also allow any permanent tag to work with any airline supporting the concept. The IATA recommended standards behind the tags would provide manufacturers a way to ensure their products work at any airport around the world.

Delivering tags

Generally, airlines are expected to sell the tags or provide them free to their most valued customers, but many different business models could be applied to the tags. Crucially, however the tags are distributed, the mechanics of the journey won’t be disrupted. “The actual travel process will be unaffected,” says Andrew Price, IATA’s Head of Baggage Services. “And while investment in RFID and NFC would help to exploit the full potential of the initiative, additional infrastructure at the airport isn’t essential as the tag will still feature a barcode. But the permanent tag brings flexibility and choice and is a vital element in the seamless journey.

“The aim is a hassle free, end-to-end travel experience,” he continues. “The passenger should be able to answer baggage security questions online and then take advantage of fast baggage drop and innovative services such as baggage delivery.”
This is all part of the Fast Travel vision. Overall, the project is targeted to reach 20% penetration of eligible passengers by the end of 2013 and the permanent bag tag will form a major initiative going forward. And it’s not only the passengers that will benefit. Airlines also stand to gain from a more robust baggage system that should reduce the number of mishandled bags.