Bag tags have been one of the few traditional elements of the check-in process to persist amid the growth of digital solutions, but no longer. Sven Lepschy, vice-president of RIMOWA Electronic Tag, introduces the paperless bag tag.
It is de rigueur these days to download your boarding pass the night before you fly. With self-service bag drops fast becoming the norm, it was inevitable that someone would think up ways to digitalise the check-in process even further. Enter the electronic bag tag.
After the idea was floated by Airbus Innovation Cell, premium luggage manufacturer RIMOWA partnered with German carrier Lufthansa and IT provider T-Systems to pioneer the technology.
The result was the RIMOWA Electronic Tag, launched in March 2016 in the complete RIMOWA luggage line that incorporates an e-ink display the size of a standard paper bag tag and is protected with Gorilla Glass.
Vice-president of RIMOWA Electronic Tag Sven Lepschy is convinced that this is the beginning of another travel revolution.
"This is like ten years ago when we got our first mobile boarding pass on our smartphone: we are changing the way we travel," he says. "In five years, almost every airline will offer it."
To use the tag, passengers check in with the individual airline's app and receive a digital tag that they transfer via Bluetooth to the screen on their luggage; then they drop off the bag at the airport. Once activated, the tag can only be changed by the passenger using a button inside the bag, and the use of e-ink means that no battery power is needed to display the tag.
Because it displays information in the same format as a paper tag, the electronic equivalent requires no extra airport infrastructure. It can be scanned in the same way without the readability issues often suffered such as tearing, folds or dirt, leading to misplaced bags.
"Right now, the average cost of returning a mishandled bag runs at about $100 per passenger," Lepschy explains. "So approximately $2.3 billion would be saved by all the airlines if they prevented mishandling by switching to electronic tags."
Widespread uptake of digital tags also has the potential to reduce an airline's expenditure on printers, maintenance, paper and the accompanying silicone glue, which is difficult to recycle, meaning that it would not only be cost-effective but also provide sustainability advantages.
Faster check-in times will enable more passengers to use self-service options and free up-front desk staff to focus on customer care. The only major investment for a new airline partner is software implementation, which Lepschy says takes about two months, depending on the individual airline.
Currently, RIMOWA Electronic Tag has partnerships with Lufthansa and Taiwan-based carrier Eva Air, and testing is in progress with United, Condor and Thomas Cook.
"We are in talks right now with 30 other potential airlines, and there are about ten who are testing our product and implementing the software," says Lepschy. "We have carriers in North America, Asia and the Middle East."
Since launch, about 6,000 bags with electronic tags have been sold and a third of those sold have been flown. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.
"Passengers love the simplicity, they are very satisfied with the security of how to transfer the data, and they get a lot of attention in the terminal because it's brand new. You can imagine what kind of faces you get," says Lepschy, adding: "This is really the coolest feature I've ever seen."
RIMOWA plans to run with the concept in its upcoming collections: next year, all the company's bags above a certain size will be fitted with electronic tags.
"We are committed to the technology and our airline partners are too," says Lepschy, "100% of them have said they will go fully digital within the next three years."
Simple, elegant solutions are a sure-fire way to grab the attention of the travel world; a product that streamlines airport operations without costly upgrades, even more so.
Air travel has taken another step towards a seamless and digitalised future.