Baggage, Features // // 8 Comments

Air France-KLM: ‘Our new permanent bag tag and tracking device can benefit the entire industry’

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Over the last 12 months, interest in permanent bag tags has increased apace as the viability of the concept has been proved, and Air France-KLM has this week launched the latest innovation in this field. The permanent bag tag, called eTag, and the eTrack tracking device have been developed by the airline alongside FastTrack Company, Samsonite and KPN with significant input also coming from Delta Air Lines.

The eTag is an electronic baggage label that includes two e-ink displays and that attaches to the outside of the suitcase, while eTrack is placed inside the luggage. In addition, a limited edition suitcase – the Samsonite Track & Trace, which includes embedded eTag and eTrack devices – has been revealed.

Speaking to FTE, Manuel van Lijf, Manager Product Innovation, Air France-KLM, explained: “We’ve worked closely with our suppliers and with Delta to try to make this an industry initiative, not just an airline initiative, and we’ve had involvement from SkyTeam too and kept them updated throughout the process.

“We thought it would be useless to just develop something for us – we wanted to develop something that will benefit the industry and the passengers. The idea was to create a product that can be used by a passenger flying with Air France, KLM, Delta, Lufthansa or another airline, for instance. Why would a passenger buy a permanent tag that can only be used on one airline?”

Making use of Bluetooth, GSM and GPS technology

Making use of Bluetooth, GSM and GPS technology

FTE Editor Ryan Ghee was given a preview of the eTag, eTrack and Samsonite Track & Trace suitcase by Air France-KLM’s Manager Product Innovation, Manuel van Lijf and FastTrack Company’s Founder & CTO Graham Kelly; CEO Arthur Lahr; and Founder & CFO David van Hoytema.

eTrack makes use of GSM, GPS and Bluetooth technology, which enables it to be tracked by a smartphone, while eTag also utilises Bluetooth. Passengers with a Flying Blue account can link the eTag and eTrack devices to their account, so when they check-in online, the permanent bag tag will be automatically updated within just five seconds. The tag communicates with the outside world via the eTrack device, and directly with smartphones using Bluetooth, but the two products can also be used independently.

“Bluetooth technology is used worldwide, so it makes sense for us to use it,” van Lijf stated. “With things like NFC (Near Field Communication), you would need to use more antennas, which would mean the tag would have to be bigger. We could add NFC later, but Bluetooth works fine.”

eTag and eTrack trials to start in December

eTag and eTrack trials to start in December

The eTag includes two e-ink displays and attaches to the outside of the suitcase, while the eTrack tracking device is placed inside the suitcase.

While Air France-KLM and its partners initially set out to develop just a permanent bag tag, the tracking device was added in response to demand from travellers. “The passengers really wanted the tracker,” van Lijf continued. “Track and trace was a number one demand among passengers.” Having held focus groups with travellers, it was clear that the size of the permanent bag tag was also important, and while the prototype FTE previewed was relatively compact, the final product will be even smaller.

Final tweaks are still being made to eTag, eTrack and the Samsonite suitcase, but Air France-KLM is planning to start live trials before the end of the year. The plan is for a small, select group of travellers to start trialling the products in December, before they are gradually made available on a larger scale.

In terms of an initial rollout, it is likely that the tag will be offered to high value, frequent travellers, but in the longer term the bulk of eTag and eTrack devices will probably be used by customers who have actively purchased them. Considering Air France recently launched home-printed bag tags, van Lijf said the permanent tag could appeal to lots of frequent flyers, while the home-printed tags could be more popular among those who fly less frequently.

Although we may have to wait nine months to see the eTag and eTrack, as well as the Samsonite Track & Trace, in action, FTE is excited to see how they perform in a live environment. We are equally pleased with the way Air France-KLM, Delta Air Lines, FastTrack Company, Samsonite and the other companies involved in its development have sought to create a solution that will benefit all airlines and all passengers, not just a select few. It may have been evident for some time now that permanent bag tags will revolutionise the baggage process, but this latest development makes it very clear that this revolution is not very far away at all.

We are delighted to announce that Manuel Van Lijf, Manager Product Innovation, Air France-KLM, will deliver a presentation entitled ‘Experiences and lessons learned from launching home-printed and permanent bag tags’ as part of the Baggage Advancements Workshop at FTE Global 2014, which will take place in Las Vegas from 24-26 September.


8 comments from our readers

  1. Jon Andresen says:

    Great marketing spin – discussed the upside and ignored the downside, like battery replacement, charging, areas (like under an airport or 30,000 feet up) where GSM isn’t going to work. So the consumer can find his bag if it is sitting still somewhere, but we haven’t done much to help the airline not lose the bag in the first place.

  2. Manuel says:

    Hi Jon,
    Thanks for asking the critical questions. To me as project leader this is very useful.
    Obviously with any product there are downsides. One of them being not able to use GSM when the aircraft is in-flight. We have to follow the regulations for this so not much we can do about this. In the technology we ensured that the eTrack will automatically switch off before take off, and will switch on after landing. This is to give the passenger the location as soon as legally possible.
    The battery life is indeed a hassle. Although the eTag does not need recharging, the eTrack will need to be recharged after around 10 flights, depending on how often the passenger will “ping” his suitcase. There is just no way around this as GSM and GPS draw a lot of energy from the battery. The tracking option was something we added as customers told us this was the most important feature for them.
    Lastly, the location information will not only be available to the customer but also to the airline. This means that when the bag is misplaced (especially) the airline can find the bag via scans, GSM or GPS. We are also working on a feature that tracks the bag during the operational process, so that when the bag is showing up at the wrong aircraft the operators are alerted and can direct the bag to the right location.
    Indeed not preventing all types of misplacement, but helping to prevent some of them, and getting the bags quicker to our passengers.

    • Jeff P says:

      What carrier partner are you using for the GSM connection? Do I have to pay a monthly subscription fee for the data connection? Thanks.

    • Vincent says:

      Hello Manuel,

      We do have such a mechanism which proven switches off before and during flight! Maybe we should contact…

      Best regards,
      Vincent

  3. Ran says:

    I think that this is a great initiative, we hear more and more from customers that they want to know where their luggage is. The thing is, that this data can be available without any GPS or Bluetooth! The airline knows exactly where the luggage is in the process (they read the barcode in many places along the way) but is reluctant to share the information with the customers. The way I see it, airlines don’t need to provide the solution but to open their data to developers out there who will likely do better job in creating innovative customer focused products.

    • Louisa says:

      I work for an airline that doesn’t use scanners at any point in our operations, so not all airlines are scanning luggage along the way. I would love to have a device that alerts when I am putting the luggage on the wrong flight, but good luck convincing the higher ups that there will be a return on investment for them.

  4. Glen A. says:

    How can a flyer traveling two to four times per year keep the battery life of these unit from being cost prohibitive? Maybe a “AA” battery option?

  5. Diederik Wouters says:

    Hi, what will be the extra cost for the traveller to use this tracking device? Besides a mobile internet, is there a monthly cost? Can it also be used as a “guard”, lost and found, theft protection ?

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