Designed for application by trained check-in staff, traditional bag tags are incompatible with the new wave of self-service kiosks. Borry Vrieling, managing director of Varilabel, explains how the latest labelling technology can rapidly increase check-in speeds and improve passenger satisfaction.
Can you briefly introduce yourself and your company?
Borry Vrieling: Formed in 1995, Varilabel is a specialised label manufacturer based in Holland, close to Amsterdam Airport Schiphol.
We are a label company rather than a printing company, which means we focus more on the practical application of our products rather than the printing part of our production process - though this is of course still important to us. Our markets cover a wide variety of business sectors, including bag tags for self-service check-in kiosks at international airports.
How important are the tags used at check-in machines?
The tags we're used to having on our baggage were designed 40 years ago to be applied by a trained agent at a check-in counter. At the time, this made sound business sense - flying was only for the happy few and there was no need for self-service machines.
But now, with the move to self-service, passengers have to tag their bags themselves. And they often get it wrong. They don't know which parts of the label to stick together, or they accidentally cover the barcode, which means the baggage-handling systems can't scan their bag.
People also tend to throw the backing paper for the adhesive part of the label onto the floor. Not only does this look messy and create cleaning costs, it also makes the floor slippery. Moreover, if someone then falls, you could have a lawsuit on your hands.
The ultimate result is that self-service check-in becomes a slow and arduous process that limits the terminal's efficiency and operating capacity. So getting the bag tags right is absolutely vital to ensuring a smooth check-in process and to improving passengers' satisfaction with the airport service.
Are airports aware of these bag- tagging issues?
Only 9% of the world's airports currently use self-service. So even though it's a familiar technology, it's still at a very early stage in its development. Only a few early adopters, like Amsterdam Airport Schiphol and Frankfurt Airport, are using it on a large scale.
In places where self-service check-in is being used, the bag-tagging issues are something airports tend to discover as they go along.
How can airports improve the bag- tagging process?
Our eezeetags are specifically designed to make the self-service check-in process much more efficient. They're made out of the normal tagging materials, so they're strong, do not tear and comply with all the recommendations.
What's different about the eezeetag is what we call our magic adhesive, which only sticks to itself. This makes the tagging process extremely intuitive for passengers. If they are doing it wrong, it simply won't work, so the design naturally pushed people in the right direction. If necessary, people can also take a closer look at the tag's explanatory diagram.
There is also no liner covering the tag's adhesive, so you don't get all the slippery label cast-off on the terminal floor.
What sort of impact does it have on a terminal's check-in speed?
A good bag-drop system in combination with our eezeetags means passengers can drop their bag off in under 30 seconds. The intuitive design of eezeetags also means that there are fewer passengers waiting for assistance from a floor worker, saving more time.
Taking a broader perspective, eezeetags also makes the whole concept of self-service check-in a lot more viable for airports. Kiosks can be placed in multiple locations around the building, meaning the check-in lines are decentralised and multiple contact points for passengers are created. This dramatically helps speed up the overall process.
Does it have much of an impact on costs?
Effective self-service check-in significantly cuts expenses. This is primarily achieved through staff minimisation.
At Schiphol, 19 bag-drop machines have been used to replace 63 counters. Those 63 counters all required workers, along with the extra costs of their managers and holiday pay, for example.
Though some floor staff will be required to help with the bag-drop machines, the number is drastically reduced, creating large savings. And because the process is so much more efficient, it also means expensive new terminals do not have to be built to expand capacity. The eezeetags themselves are actually a little more expensive than the standard labels, because of the special adhesive. But the price will drop as the volume rises.
How have customers been reacting to the new tags?
At Schiphol, 19 self-service bag-drop machines are serving three million passengers a year using eezeetags. We see a huge difference between first-time and second-time users - there's a very steep learning curve. Once people have got the hang of it, it's extremely quick.
Lufthansa uses eezeetags to handle more than six million passengers at Frankfurt, Munich and Hamburg. Flybe and Easy Jet also use them at Edinburgh, Gatwick and Southampton. We've also recently tested the eezeetags at Changi Airport, Singapore.
What separates you from the competition?
There are bag-tag manufacturers that are bigger than Varilabel, but their whole business strategy is geared towards production volumes - they are simply as lean and mean as they can possible be. And they're often not overly concerned with innovation.
As a smaller firm, we're much more focused on new ideas. It's how we came up with the eezeetags solution. That philosophy applies to all the other labels we produce for additional business sectors as well. Also, because we do work in other industries, we have the perspective and flexibility to come up with new ideas and experiment with them.
How do you see bag labels evolving over the years to come?
It may well be that in 20-30 years time, we won't have any paper bag tags. But we can't just leap into the future. Developments like this always happen step by step.
In the meantime, I think self-service will become more and more prevalent. Though maybe not dominate for another 5-10 years, perhaps even longer, but usage levels will certainly continue to rise. As a result, the need for a simple, passenger-friendly bag tag will also increase.
Do you think we'll be seeing permanent bag tags?
Yes, I'm convinced there will be a lot of passengers in the future flying with some kind of permanent bag tag. But it's not only the tag that's important; you also have to consider what airport infrastructure would be needed. At the moment, everyone's reliant on barcode scanners and technology, so permanent bag tags probably aren't something that will happen overnight.
There will, of course, be home-printed bag tags, which I think is a great idea. But people may not always have access to a printer, especially on return flights. So there will probably still be a need for terminal-printed bag tags.
For the more immediate future though, I think eezeetags will be one of the best self-service bag drop and tag products.