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British Airways set to bring luggage tags into the 21st century


July 3, 2013

British Airways is testing an electronic luggage tag that travelers can update with a smartphone and re-use over and over

British Airways is testing an electronic luggage tag that travelers can update with a smartphone and re-use over and over

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Most people would probably agree that air travel still has plenty of room for improvement, particularly when it comes to actually checking in and getting on the plane. For its part, British Airways is now taking steps to speed up the whole process on its end and is even testing a digital alternative to the traditional paper luggage tag. The airline recently produced an electronic luggage tag that travelers can update themselves with a smartphone and re-use over and over.

Travelers may see the paper tags as a nuisance purely because of the grimy residue they tend to leave behind, but British Airways views them as a time waster. The company is hoping that upgrading to a high-tech version will shave a few minutes off the check-in process and get people to their flights faster.

The proposed electronic tags will have two small e-ink screens showing the bag's destination and a corresponding barcode with more flight details. Using an app, passengers will be able to wave their smartphone over it and automatically input their destination via NFC. After that, it just needs to be scanned by an airline worker at the check-in desk, which British Airways believes will be faster than the usual method of printing out a fresh tag right there.

Rather than receiving a new tag for every time they travel, passengers just keep the same one and update it for the next trip. They can even personalize it with different colors or other decorations, which could help them distinguish their bags from others at the baggage claim.

However, a rep for the company told The Verge that the final version will probably drop the NFC capabilities in favor of another communication technology such as Bluetooth, which is compatible with a wider range of smart devices. Still, this could be the first step towards electronic tags with even more useful features, like the Trakdot's locating ability for instance.

Designworks recently assisted in the development of the first batch of baggage tags, which are set for field testing in London's Heathrow Airport later this month. If all goes well, British Airways plans to launch the new tags in 2014 and eventually roll them out worldwide.

Source: British Airways, Designworks, The Verge

About the Author
Jonathan Fincher Jonathan grew up in Norway, China, and Trinidad before graduating film school and becoming an online writer covering green technology, history and design, as well as contributing to video game news sites like Filefront and 1Up. He currently resides in Texas, where his passions include video games, comics, and boring people who don't want to talk about either of those things. All articles by Jonathan Fincher

A brilliant testament to BA's continuing slide down the relevancy scale.

Having initially failed to perceive the market's desire for no-frills (aka cheap) tickets for short-haul (think EasyJet, Ryanair), then failing with its eventual response (the ill-fated Go subsidiary), it now comes up with an electronic baggage tag that - uniquely - manages to use just two technologies that both involve dead-end technologies, viz NFC and the traditional (limited) retail barcode.

It wouldn't take a rocket scientist to perceive a much better solution would be Bluetooth LE and QR code.

Jenna Brownley

@Jenna - interesting thoughts.

I wonder if this is something that could be hacked - so that a nefarious baggage handler could merely wave his phone over a tag destined for JFK and - voilá! - now it's heading to MHP.


@Jenna -Neither barcodes nor NFC are "dead end". Barcodes have been used for a long time, and by the looks of, oh, every single store that I've ever seen, they're not going anywhere fast. NFC is only a few years old and already it's just beginning to gain traction. If it's dead end, why is it being included in the newest gadgets?

Roma Khudoleyev

Good grief! "Well sir, we still don't know where your luggage ended up, but the tags have not yet been damaged or torn off"!

The Skud

This isn't a new innovation, Qantas in Australia has had what they call Q tags, which are fundamentally the same product, for almost 2 years.

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