The revolutionary nature of Electronic Bag Tags (EBT) has been part of discussions for several years. Despite its promise to optimize baggage handling operations in the world’s airports, EBTs have not yet taken off… but will soon.
The IATA requirement
IATA Resolution 753 on baggage tracking will come into effect on June 1st, 2018. It requires airlines to do an inventory of bags upon check-in, plane loading, carrier-change and delivery. In addition, airlines need to exchange tracking information with other airlines, airports and ground handlers if necessary.
An innovative solution
Airlines have several different options to implement this resolution, and EBTs is one of them. Coincidentally, IATA’s implementation guide for baggage tracking was published simultaneously with an implementation guide for EBTs.
EBTs would be a viable solution for airlines since they use RFID technology that allows easy and quick tracking without a line-of-sight need for scanning. Passengers can upload their travel destination through a mobile app unto the tag. This can be done at home; after which they simply drop their bag off at a designated place at the airport and off they go.
The EBT Implementation Guide highlights the fact that baggage handling is currently the responsibility of the passenger, when it’s actually the airlines’ obligation. An EBT would liberate the passenger from this burden by eliminating one of the queues at the airport, namely the check-in one! In short, passengers just want two things: 1. to not wait in line and 2. to get their bag back after the journey. EBTs ensure both in a fully automated and paperless way.
- Approaching compliance with IATA Resolution 753 regarding baggage tracking and information sharing.
- Improved passenger experience (described above): always good for airlines.
- Increased operational efficiency: quicker and simpler bag drop processes.
- Innovative perception of airline: technological progress sits well with people.
- Faster baggage recovery: EBTs are less fragile than paper tags and can be tracked down more easily due to RFID sensors.
Who is taking the EBT path?
The biggest challenge is the cost of infrastructure and tags. Therefore, not all airlines will choose this option, but a diversification of scanning/tracking tools between airlines shouldn’t be a problem as EBTs comply with traditional systems. Currently the following airlines are testing or have tested the electronic tags: Lufthansa, Eva Air, United Airlines, Thomas Cook, Alaska Airlines, British Airways and Delta.
Some of the companies currently providing EBTs include: Rimowa (in cooperation with Germany’s Lufthansa), Q Bag Tag (in cooperation with the Australian airline Qantas), BAGTAG (Netherlands), Vanguard (USA) and Travel Sentry (USA).
EBTs come in different variations. The biggest distinction is between active and passive tags. The most common EBTs are passive ones using UHF RFID technology that doesn’t transmit any signal, but can only be read. Active ones can be tracked from further away since they allow live localisation through their use of batteries. This latter technology creates many new possibilities for the aviation baggage industry. Air France-KLM has already done some trials with a combined E Tag and E Track solution corresponding with the passive and active technology respectively.
Why does this matter for AVSEC?
As airlines and, hence, airports start thinking about the infrastructure required to support the active EBTs, there could be links to security. For example, if the infrastructure exists for tracking a certain make/model of RFID, then it could be used to track how bags on people move in an airport – an interesting data point for security operators.
IATA’s guide includes lots of technical details and relevant implementation advice to help airlines up their baggage handling innovation game.