Baggage handling innovations: can TravelTag ever replace traditional paper bag tags?

Woman labelling a suitcase with a traditional paper bagtag

A look at the current system for baggage handling: Type-B Messaging

Baggage handling step-by-step

When a passenger checks in a bag at the airport, the check-in agent access to the airline’s Departure Control System. They then print a bag tag, and issue the Baggage Source Message (BSM).

BSMs are vital for routing purposes as they contain information about the bag’s itinerary. These messages are transmitted to the airport’s baggage handling system, which routes the passenger’s bag to the correct destination.

This process may involve sorting and conveying bags through various conveyor belts, scanners, and sorting devices to ensure they reach the right flight.

Baggage sorting at the airport.
A look behind the screens: baggage sorting at the airport

At each of these stages, other electronic messages known as Baggage Processed Messages (BPMs) are generated. These are then sent to the airline’s or airport’s computer systems.

Transparency and trust with BPMs

BPMs are used for tracking purposes and indicate that the baggage has successfully completed a specific processing step. These messages may contain information about the bag’s location and status.

It can also include relevant data such as its barcode or RFID tag information.

These messages help track the progress of the baggage and can trigger notifications or updates to the airline’s systems.

The purpose of Baggage Processed Messages is to ensure transparency and accountability in the handling of passengers’ checked baggage.

They allow airlines and airports to monitor and manage the baggage handling process. This reduces the risk of lost or mishandled baggage. It also provides passengers with confidence that their belongings are being properly cared for during their journey.

Using the system to communicate with passengers

Airlines using B2C baggage tracking communication

Type-B messages were initially designed for business-to-business communications. But recently airlines have adapted them to provide location information to passengers, which we find impressive!

Qatar Airways for example enables their passengers to follow their luggage on their phone.

If a bag is mishandled, they can immediately start a reshipment order and get their bags delivered to their house.

Hand holding phone showing Qatar Airways Baggage Tracking Dashboard
Qatar Airways Baggage Tracking Dashboard

Delta Air Lines and American Airlines offer a similar service where passengers can track their luggage in real-time at different points of the baggage journey. This possibility has been met with enthusiasm by passengers.

American Airlines Baggage Tracking Dashboard. Picture from “How I Got My Bag Back After American Airlines ‘Mishandled’ It”

Downsides of Type-B messaging for passenger communications

The limitation of this model is that for it to work effectively, airlines need to generate this tracking data across the majority of their route network.

This way, they can provide a consistent passenger experience. Otherwise, passengers who have used this system once may wonder why it is not available elsewhere. This inconsistency in the passenger experience can create friction and deteriorate trust.

Cost is another drawback.

BPMs are quite expensive. Airlines can obtain them from the Baggage Handling System (BHS). They can also purchase and implement a Baggage Reconciliation System (BRS) at every airport. BRS is not prohibitively expensive. However, handling companies may need to adjust their processes and may request additional fees from airlines.

As we have highlighted the possibilities and limitations of the current model, let’s return to our mission: exploring if TravelTags can replace Bag Tags.

Is TravelTag capable of tracking baggage?

TravelTag utilizes Bluetooth technology, which, at first glance, can be compared as follows:

Comparison of current technologies for baggage handling: barcode scanning, RFID readers and Bluetooth.
Bluetooth offers many benefits compared to traditional baggage tracking solutions.

TravelTag’s system uses Bluetooth to track baggage and can detect a bag within a radius of 100 meters in an open space. In the airport, this distance might be lower due to interferences like walls, other bags, etc. According to our stress tests, we have been able to locate more than 200 bags per second.

So, imagine you are an airline, and you enter the lost-and-found room. There you have 300 bags equipped with TravelTag. In a matter of seconds, you’ll receive a complete list of the bags in that room.

The same applies to other use cases. Just think of the check-in staff, or of the ground handler. They can check real-time data at check-in or while loading baggage into the Unit Load Devices (ULD).

Hand showing Bob's TravelTag at the airport.
Bob’s TravelTag is a small yet effective tool to enhance passenger experience and improve operational efficiency.

It becomes even more interesting if your airline handles bags in bulk. In such cases, the risk of losing a bag is higher, and therefore, the benefits derived from the use of TravelTag are greater.

In terms of scalability, an airline typically requires between 6-10 gateway receivers for a flight operation (departure or arrival).

This assures scalability. The cost of a receiver, depending on the volume, can be in the single digits.

Drawing on this information, we can conclude that TravelTag is positioned to replace BPMs.

Can TravelTag route baggage for baggage handling?

After check-in, ground handlers load the bags into the Baggage Handling System (BHS). This consists of conveyor belts equipped with arches capable of scanning bag tags and obtaining information about baggage destinations.

Let’s say a conveyor belt splits into two. To the right, bags go to CDG, and to the left, bags go to NYC.

A few meters before the intersection, the arches read the bag’s tag to determine its destination. As the bag approaches the intersection, the appropriate route opens. This ensures the ground handler can load it onto the correct aircraft.

Can we replicate this system using Bluetooth? We need to do it with an affordable model to entice BHS operators to replace their current infrastructure. Otherwise, there will be no change.

Time will tell.

In conclusion, while TravelTag may not entirely replace traditional bag tags, it definitely empowers airlines to swiftly and cost-effectively upgrade baggage tracking systems, optimizing efficiency across a broad spectrum of locations.

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