In part one of our Challenging Legacy Systems blog, we brought to surface the challenges that legacy systems hold on our industry and the need for further innovation to meet the demands of today’s travelers. We began the discussion with outdated messaging standards and suggested a modern alternative that promises to improve data quality and reduce messaging costs. In case you missed it, you can read part one here!


Bag Tags

To some, it may just be a piece of paper. However, those in the industry know just how crucial the bag tag’s role is in ensuring the smooth and secure handling of baggage. They enable bags to be uniquely identified and tracked throughout their journey, allow baggage handlers and sortation systems to quickly sort and route bags, and help airlines trace bags in the event they get mishandled.

Originally used for advertising on steam ships, bag tags became widely adopted in the aviation industry in the 1930’s. Back then, it was a blank tag that was filled in by hand or the iconic pre-printed colored tags identifying the destination. The on-demand barcoded bag tag that we know of today didn’t come about until 1992, when it was first adopted by United Airlines. Barcodes on bag tags enabled automated scanning and tracking of bags throughout their journey which drastically helped improve efficiency and reduce mishandled bag rates.

Despite how great the on-demand baggage tag is, our expanding and data-driven industry requires more innovation. The paper bag tags today have limited space for information, lack the ability to be updated in real-time, and are vulnerable to damage.



One of the first modern innovations to the bag tag was the introduction of RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) in the early 2000’s. RFID supports wireless communication between bag tags and scanners, allowing for faster and more accurate tracking of baggage. RFID tags can store more data than barcode tags which grants the ability to include additional information such as passenger’s destination, connecting flights, and special handling instructions. This provides a more comprehensive overview for baggage handlers and airline staff.

Another advantage of RFID tags is their ability to be scanned wirelessly, without a direct line of sight. This means that baggage can be swiftly and accurately identified, even if it’s stacked among numerous other pieces of luggage, further expediting the handling process.

Despite these benefits, widespread adoption of RFID technology has been relatively slow. This is because most legacy check-in technologies that would encode the bag tag at the origin, as well as the baggage handling systems, are incompatible with RFID. Retrofitting or upgrading these systems to accommodate RFID tags requires significant investment of both time and resources, posing a barrier for many airports and airlines. Nonetheless, it is essential to recognize the potential long-term advantages they offer. As technology continues to advance, infrastructure evolves and costs decrease, the integration of RFID into baggage tracking systems may broaden, ultimately leading to improved efficiency and reduced operational costs for airlines.


Electronic Bag Tags

In recent years, there have been significant developments from airlines and new technology companies towards electronic bag tags (EBT). BAGTAG, a Dutch tech company introduced their first flexible electronic bag tags in 2018 with the goal of moving passenger check-in off the airport. With BAGTAG, travelers check-in to their flight on their smartphone from home and receive an electronic bag tag which they can sync to the BAGTAG device attached to their luggage. When they arrive at the airport, they can skip the long check-in and bag-drop queues and can go directly to the self-bag drop station to induct their luggage.

eTag is another great example. They have created a unique, double-sided electronic bag tag that acts just like paper tags, allowing for seamless integration with existing airport systems. Similarly, it offers travelers to complete the check-in process at home, reducing queuing at the airport. The eTag attaches to the handle of the luggage so it can be easily swapped between bags and also includes a proximity sensor that notifies the owner once the bag arrives at baggage reclaim.

This process around EBT offers a touchless and seamless experience which enhances the customer experience. According to BAGTAG, baggage can be handled four times faster with their solution, significantly reducing queue sizes. And as an added benefit, paperless solutions mean less waste is created, helping airports and airlines on their journey towards sustainability.

Many airlines are already starting their EBT journey – including Alaska Airlines who became the first U.S. airline to adopt the technology – and travelers have been quick to embrace it. After launching their web shop in February, Alaska Airlines sold out of the BAGTAG Flex’s within the first 12 hours of opening!


A Bag Tag-Less Future?

Another company that is challenging industry norms and innovating the baggage journey is BagsID. Using a mix of computer vision, AI and an ever-expanding data set of bag images, BagsID is able to identify and track baggage without relying on bag tags. The solution can differentiate even seemingly identical bags from each other by collecting information such as bag features, wear, damage, along with geolocation and business rules. Essentially, they are creating biometrics for baggage, improving the baggage identification process for airports and airlines.


Greater Transparency for Passengers

Aside from identification, tracking is another critical role for bag tags. The industry’s mishandled baggage rate has yet to fall back below pre-pandemic levels, and this in part due to the lack of complete baggage tracking systems – especially passenger-facing systems. As a result, travelers have taken matters into their own hands by placing personal trackers in their luggage to stay aware of the whereabouts of their belongings.

This development signifies a fundamental change in the dynamics of air travel. By assuming a more active role in the tracking process, travelers are demanding greater transparency from airlines and airports. No longer satisfied as passive participants in the journey, passengers seek to bridge the gap between what they know and what the industry knows (“where’s my bag?”) – a divide that has long fueled frustration and mistrust.

There is great potential for collaboration and innovation in this evolving landscape. Airlines and airports have an opportunity to leverage passenger-generated data to enhance the tracking process and improve the overall travel experience. However, there still remains a responsibility on the airports and airlines to share data and improve both current tracking systems and baggage handling processes that led to the shift in the first place. This is where SmartBag comes into play.

SmartBag Passenger Notifications collects real-time information about bags and their status as they are scanned during the handling process, and then delivers critical information to passengers on their mobile and web-enabled devices using its TrackMyBag feature. Additionally, information such as flight status and gate changes can also be communicated to passengers, improving transparency throughout their airport journey.

Open communication is essential for bridging baggage clarity between airlines and airports and their passengers, and provides them with the transparency they have been demanding. Additionally, with Passenger Notifications, airlines can improve operational efficiency, increase visibility into relight operations at outstations, and reduce legacy tracer fees significantly.


Stay tuned for part three of our Challenging Legacy Systems blog where we’ll discuss the evolving landscape of baggage handling systems. If you don’t already, follow us on LinkedIn and be part of the conversation shaping the future of baggage clarity and excellence!