E-bag Tags and Personalized Flight Info Displays Coming to Airports Soon
Catching a flight is a time-consuming process. Now, airlines are modernizing harried check-in and navigation processes to speed things up.
For years, airports have been modernizing to streamline and protect the traveler's experience: computed tomography (CT) now scans carry-on baggage, automated screening lanes push individuals through security, and credential authentication technology (CAT) authenticates IDs, reservations, and pre-screening status in real-time. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is even in the process of evaluating biometric technologies to verify passenger identities.
CT scanner in a security checkpoint at Lihue Airport. Image used courtesy of TSA
In 2020, airports worldwide turned to hardware developers to create a safer travel environment amid the pandemic, yielding thermal-scanning cameras, touchless screening kiosks, and disinfectant booths and robots. In the past month alone, two airlines have announced new devices and systems claimed to improve the airport experience for travelers.
While Alaska Airlines is honing in on electronic bag tags, Delta is tackling Parallel Reality display technology to help travelers quickly find personalized flight information. How might these two technologies change the travel experience should they be adopted by other airlines and in more airports?
Alaska Airlines First to Release Electronic Bag Tags
On July 19, 2022, Alaska Airlines became the first U.S airline to launch an electronic bag tag program.
The new electronic bag tags from Alaska Airlines are designed to help travelers skip the checked-bag process of printing traditional paper tags for carry-on identification. Instead, with the new electronic bag tags, guests can activate and tag their own bags off airport grounds by pairing the electronic bag tag with Alaska Airline’s mobile app.
The new bag tags from Alaska Airlines. Image used courtesy of Alaska Airlines
To achieve this, the tags consist of a receiving NFC antenna that receives data from a smartphone’s NFC chip. Activating the tag requires touching the smartphone to the bag tag. Then, the tag’s e-paper display will update to present the traveler’s flight information. Additionally, the tag will include an RFID chip, which is currently used in some airports for automated baggage systems.
With this technology, Alaska Airlines hopes to put the entire check-in process in travelers' hands before they even reach the airport. The company predicts that the bag tag will reduce the time spent dropping off checked luggage by almost 40%. According to Alaska Airlines, the first phase of the bag tag rollout will include 2,500 frequent fliers and will occur at the end of 2022.
Delta Uses "Parallel Reality" for Personalized Flight Info
On June 29, 2022, Delta Airlines deployed Parallel Reality technology for use in the Detroit Metropolitan Airport.
Parallel Reality is a new display technology that allows up to 100 passengers to look at the same overhead screen while each person simultaneously sees their own personalized flight information. The goal of the Parallel Reality system is to facilitate flight schedules and airport navigation by customizing each user's experience without needing smartphones or special headsets.
Delta’s Parallel Reality. Graphic [modified] used courtesy of Delta Airlines
The technology emerged from a partnership between Delta and startup Misapplied Sciences, which developed the technology. The Parallel Reality system is notified when travelers first scan their boarding passes on an associated machine. Then, an overhead motion sensor tracks the moving traveler after they scan the boarding pass to identify where they are relative to the associated overhead monitors.
The monitors emit various pixels of light in numerous directions to display only the relevant information to each individual traveler standing at a different position relative to the screen.
So far this technology has only been deployed in the Detroit Metropolitan Airport, but Delta plans to expand the technology to other airports in cities including Atlanta, Los Angeles, and New York City. Further expansion of the technology will also include facial recognition technology in place of boarding passes for the Parallel Reality system.
Interesting indeed, and if the electronic tags do not depend on the passengers entering information it may work fairly well. Of course, being able to read the tag will allow verification prior to needing to use the tag.But I predict massive problems with that flight information display because of the large number of people who either can’t read that fast and the large number of individuals who are unable to focus their attention quickly enough to read fast enough. Consider what will happen if one person tries to stop and read their information.
The e-bag tag is indeed an interesting idea but I think it’s one of those ideas that is more complicated/expensive than absolutely necessary. Large-scale deployment of RFID chips embedded in conventional printed baggage tags would seem like a solution which would greatly curtail bag loss and speed up bag tracing in the event a bag goes astray. I’ve spent an hour searching all the carousels in a major airport because the airline app told me my bag had made it onto my flight (manually scanned?) but had somehow been dropped onto the wrong carousel. With RFD readers, the system would either not have permitted the bag to go to the wrong carousel or would have alerted the system to the fact that my bag was on Carousel E5 when the bags from my flight should have been on E17.
Also: the Alaska Airlines e-bag tags will be deployed to frequent flyers. As the program expands, how will non-frequent flyers be managed? With kiosk-printed baggage tags? Will the frequent flyers need to buy the e-bag tags? The article raises more questions than it answers. And the picture shows a bag tag for flights from Amsterdam to Paris to Frankfurt (Lufthansa code share) which is entirely inside the EU. Interesting choice.