As the Holiday Travel Season Begins, IoT Technologies Take Off with Baggage Tags

Published: November 21, 2023

BagTag’s solution consists of a software platform for use by airlines, and a tag with built in BLE, NFC and UHF technologies.

As the crush of U.S. travelers hit airports this Thanksgiving, airlines are offering high-tech tags that will track the bags for those attempting to get home.

Lufthansa Group’s Discover Airlines and Icelandair are the latest airlines to adopt baggage management system for passengers leveraging multiple wireless technologies as airports become jam packed with holiday travelers.

The electronic luggage tag, which passengers through the airline can access through the airline or purchase themselves, was developed by technology company BagTag. It is a 3.5 inch-long device with E-ink display, and embedded Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), nearfield communication (NFC) and UHF RFID functionality. A backend software connection between the BagTag platform and the airline, allows them to check-in their baggage and update the device—all before they leave home for a flight.

The solution allows airlines to offer convenience already widely available to travelers via digital check-ins, but in this case for their bags. Once a passenger has used their phone to check their suitcase in the airline’s system, the tag is updated to include necessary data about the passenger, the flight and destination.

Baggage Tag Focus

Amsterdam-based startup BagTag, the company that developed the solution, launched in 2014 with the goal to “become the first supplier of secure, electronic baggage tags as a logical next step in in airline passenger service evolution,” says Jasper Quak, BagTag’s managing director.

Quak points out that e-ticketing was introduced decades ago, and accessing a mobile boarding pass on a smartphone has been available for years. And travelers can now use airline apps to identify themselves for international flights while at home.

In the meantime, “the baggage tagging process wasn’t really evolving that much,” says Quak. Although passengers can indicate electronically that they will be checking a bag, they still need to print a paper baggage tag at the airport which typically requires waiting in lines.

Next Evolution

There have been some updates to baggage technology however. Delta Airlines, for instance, has adopted UHF RFID-enabled baggage labels that come with a built in UHF RFID chip so that the bag can be tracked automatically as it transits through the airports and into and off of aircraft to ensure luggage doesn’t get misrouted or go missing.

That still requires passengers to have the baggage tag printed at the airport however, and the tag is disposed of after each flight.

“To take the next step in the evolution of off airport passenger processing, the baggage challenge has to be solved and put into the hands of the passengers,” says Quak.

How it’s Used

The reusable label that BagTag developed comes with multiple technologies, and can be used by passengers of any participating airline. Each device has a BLE beacon module and a chip and antenna for UHF RFID, as well as NFC transmissions.

The company offers the full solution that manages the tag data, including software platform and  APIs, so that airlines can build the BagTag solution into their own app. Two versions of the tags are being offered: the BagTag Flex and BagTag Fix, with new products in the works.

Airlines using the system leverage BagTag’s  “mobile framework” onto which they can build their own customized user experience. Once an airline adopts the technology it typically requires only a few weeks to deploy.

Alaska Airlines Program

Alaska Airlines has been piloting the BagTag with select frequent flyers and will next expand availability to other travelers. The airline will soon offer passengers the tag on its website, which is sent to their home.

Customers will attach the tag to the bag they will be checking, and then proceed to use the Alaska Airlines mobile app to follow the steps for the upcoming flight. The final step of the process involves checking luggage, at which point the passenger is asked if they want to do so electronically.

First, the system establishes the passenger that is activating the tag is its owner, through a verification process. The users next employs their airline mobile app to connect to the tag using the NFC functionality in the phone. That activates the tag, after which a BLE transmission from the phone is sent.

Tracking the Bag

That transmission uses the data conversion unit, which updates data on both the UHF and NFC chips. It prompts rewriting of the e-ink display with printed information about the flight, and the related barcode.

When the passenger arrives at the airport, depending on which airport is being used, there may be a dedicated drop off location, or they may need to go to an airline representative to take custody of the bag.

In either case, the E-ink barcode printed on the tag display is scanned to confirm the identity of the bag and its flight information and it is then routed accordingly.

Future Applications

Thus far the UHF RFID functionality in the BagTags is not typically being used. However, the technology company expects that as more RFID readers are installed at airports, that functionality will provide a benefit for airlines and airport baggage handling purposes.

Qatar Airways, for instance, is using the RFID functionality at the airports where they fly to capture the ID of each bag as it is sorted and routed through the airport.

Since the system already consists of an update for the tag ID in both the NFC and UHF chip in the BagTag, adoption of RFID will be more seamless for airlines, the company says. Already, each time that the passenger updates their BagTag, with updated E-ink information, the UHF RFID tag is also written with the new flight information.

“We actually reprogram the RFID UHF tag every time you update the tag to reflect your upcoming trip so it has the same information on it as the paper tag,” said Quak.

Airport Technology Updates Needed

In that way, the tag’s use of multiple technologies provides a transition as airlines and airports update their own technology infrastructure: eventually using RFID readers, or even eliminating the need to printed paper luggage tags. That won’t happen until most airports around the world have made a transition to RFID-tracking systems, Quak points out.

“Passengers are not only flying through one airport, so you have to consider the weakest link in your network,” stated Quak.

Tracking the Crew

This fall, Icelandair announced it has begun using the BagTags for its flight crew baggage as a way to ensure the crew members—including flight attendances and cockpit crew—can more efficiently check their baggage before they begin flying. BagTag developed the new crew baggage application this year.

Additionally, another electronic luggage tag company, BagID, recently began leveraging the BagTag EBT Platform, allowing the company to focus on passenger product development, while BagTag enables airline integrations and connectivity, Quak says.

BagTag developed its tags in-house, and they are being manufactured by a third party. In the meantime, it has been supplying its multi-vendor platform since 2019. Thus far 16 airlines have adopted the technology with several other airlines now building the solution into their apps.

Key Takeaways:
  • Icelandair and Discover Airlines are the latest to adopt a baggage tag solution from BagTag that leverages BLE, NFC and RFID technologies.
  • The solution includes the tag itself, software platform and API so that airlines can build the solution into their own passenger or flight crew apps.