Air France Contract to Bring RFID to 40 Million Baggage Tags Annually

French tag company Paragon ID has developed its first RFID baggage label as part of a three-year contract with Air France, to enable automated baggage tracking at Charles de Gaulle Airport by 2020.
Published: August 28, 2019

Global airline Air France expects to be providing RFID-enabled baggage tags to its passengers at Charles de Gaulle Airport in 2020. The airline is the latest to announce intentions to track passengers’ baggage via RFID technology, with the aim of reducing the rate of lost luggage, as well as boosting efficiency and sharing baggage status content with passengers in real time.

As part of that effort, Air France has signed a three-year contract with RFID label company Paragon ID to provide a minimum of 40 million EPC UHF RFID labels for the Paris airport annually. After the three-year contract expires, says Clem Garvey, Paragon ID’s CEO, the companies could opt to renew the agreement for two more years.

Charles de Gaulle Airport

Charles de Gaulle Airport is Europe’s second busiest airport and Air France is the largest airline to use that facility. The airport and airline have agreed to implement RFID technology for all Air France flights, with a gradual deployment that Air France will then expand to its other airports. Eight million pieces of baggage will initially have an RFID tag attached to them by next year, and that number is expected to increase from there. The airline selected Paragon ID as its tag provider after the firm custom-developed a baggage label that it designed to be sturdy and easy to attach and remove from a bag, with a long read range and the ability to stop operating once it is removed from a suitcase.

The new contract with Air France is part of what Paragon ID calls an ambitious strategy to grow into the air transportation market. An airline spokesperson referred to the company’s press release rather than answer specific questions about the deployment. Paragon ID, also located in France, has provided the airline with printed non-RFID labels for several years. Now, with its new contract, each Paragon ID tag comes with a printed background of the airline’s colors, and the tags are designed to be printable for a specific passenger’s information and barcode number at the airport.

Each tag comes with a built-in NXP UCODE RFID chip and an antenna designed to fail if the adhesive connection is broken. Paragon ID prints and encodes the RFID-enabled labels, then tests the RFID functionality to ensure they can be read properly before it sends them to Air France.

At the airport, passengers can check their bags in the same way they have done so in the past, by printing a label using a kiosk and attaching it to their luggage. But with the new RFID-enabled Air France tags, the unique ID number is built in and will be readable by fixed or handheld RFID readers. The unique ID encoded to the tag is linked to the passenger’s information. As the bags are sorted, routed and loaded onto an aircraft, and are then unloaded and sent to the baggage carousel, a UHF RFID reader deployed there can automatically capture each bag’s information. Air France and the Paris airport can thus receive updates indicating a bag may be in the wrong location.

If passengers download the Air France app, they can receive updates indicating when their luggage is loaded onto the plane, or the carrousel to which it has been routed at the destination airport, as long as that airport has RFID reader infrastructure in place. Delta Airlines has been using RFID in this way for several years, and other airlines are either piloting or planning deployments of similar RFID-enabled systems. Their efforts follow an International Air Transport Association (IATA) decision known as Resolution 753, which recommends airlines and airports adopt RFID technology for baggage tracking.

Air France serves approximately 50 million passengers at the Paris airport alone, and its long-term goal is to automate the tracking and tracing of all passenger bags that pass through it. The airline predicts that the solution will reduce costs and improve operational performance.

For Paragon ID, Garvey says, “This is our first RFID baggage tag project to go live.” In 2017, the company acquired ASK, which has expertise in inlays. Following baggage trolley tracking applications at airports, he notes, baggage tracking is the second of what Paragon ID expects to be many airline-specific applications for its RFID labels.

Clem Garvey

“We’ve been talking to a number of airlines,” Garvey reports, especially those in the Sky Team Airline Alliance, about using the same labels. “The overall norms of the technology are specified in the IATA resolution,” he adds, which means a universal label would be operable with all airlines.

The Paragon ID label has a reading distance of up to 10 meters (32.8 feet), Garvey says, and is designed to be intuitive for passengers to attach them to their bags and later remove. “It’s important that those tags be disabled once the passenger’s journey is complete,” he adds. Therefore, the tag is designed to self-destruct once it is removed from a bag; the antenna tears and is no longer able to respond to an RF transmission.

Air France and other airlines have several priorities, Garvey says, the first of which are to reduce the number of bags that are lost and to improve customer satisfaction. In fact, IATA predicts that baggage losses can be reduced by 25 percent with the technology. Additionally, the ability to send messages about a bag’s status to passengers is likely to encourage travelers to check their bags—which makes flights more efficient. The third priority for airlines is to ensure safety now and in the future, as they need, for instance, to be sure that an RFID baggage label is never retrieved by a bad actor and attached to another bag for another flight.

Garvey cites IATA predictions that there could be as many as 8 billion bags checked per year worldwide by 2025, based on flight rates. “We’re very proud to have been selected by Air France,” he says. “For us, it’s a marriage of our knowledge and history in industrial label printing.” The company’s experience “provided us with the gray matter and skills to invent a better mouse trap,” Garvey states.