British Airways Is Launching Electronic Baggage Tags This Summer

Jun 14, 2019

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Wouldn’t it be nice if you didn’t have to get a new checked bag tag each time you fly? British Airways is working to make paper baggage tags a thing of the past with new electronic bag tags. After years of trials and false starts, it looks like British Airways is actually going to start issuing and accepting electronic bag tags this summer.

The December edition of BA’s Business Life magazine the airline will be launching electronic bag tags in January 2019. Since we reported that in December 2018, British Airways’ digital bag tag website has read: “Digital bag tag… coming soon…” That is, until today.

Now British Airways says that its “TAG” electronic tags will be available to pre-order from June 2019 and that it will “aim to start delivering TAGs in July 2019.”

The airline released this video about how the electronic tag will work:

Since electronic baggage tags are a solution that will save the airline money and resources, you might think BA would be excited to give away these tags to its frequent travelers. But that’s not the case. Instead, passengers will have to cough up £63 (US$80) to pre-order the tag. Starting in October, the price will increase to £80 (US$101)

Note that BA’s Business Life magazine listed the price in its December 2018 edition as £60 (US$76). The advertisement referred to this as “affordable and accessible (especially if you’re able to expense it as part of your business travel costs).”

This isn’t too surprising coming from an airline that’s cutting costs and trying to raise revenue wherever it can. However, it’s a rather shortsighted decision as the price is sure to keep many potential users from adopting the new technology.

The only large airline that’s been successful in getting electronic baggage tag adoption is Qantas, which launched its “Q Bag Tag” in 2011. Qantas flyers also have to purchase the tag themselves, but the tags are priced at A$30 (US$22) each or A$50 (US$36) for two. That makes BA’s electronic bag tag prices nearly four times more expensive than Qantas during the pre-order or nearly 5x more expensive than the standard price.

This electronic bag tag rollout has been a long time coming. British Airways first announced passenger trials of electronic baggage tags back in 2013 — after having already completed “comprehensive testing.” At the time, trial participants used Nokia phones for the test and the baggage tags were supposed to have a battery life of five years — meaning that they’d have run out of power by now.

In the 2013 announcement, the airline explained the process would work as follows:

Customers on the trial will use their Nokia Lumia Windows Phone to check in, chose their seat and obtain their mobile boarding pass. Each will be equipped with a specially adapted version of the British Airways app, which automatically updates the digital bag tag with a unique barcode, containing new flight details and an easy-to-see view of their bag’s destination – just by holding the mobile phone over it.

They can then save precious time by quickly dropping their bag off at a dedicated bag drop desk, before going straight through security to relax before their flight, without the need for a new paper tag to be printed and secured.

Besides Nokia Lumia phones being replaced by passengers’ own smartphones, it doesn’t appears that British Airways has modernized the process much in the six years since.

Featured image by British Airways from an electronic bag tag trial in 2015.

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