Self-service is becoming the prime path for passengers checking in: the number of passengers using a traditional check-in desk is expected to decrease from 64% currently to 38% in 2009, while passengers using some form of self-service check-in will double. At the same time, the check-in is increasingly being transferred outside of the airport with internet check-in and off-site check-in desks.
However, if boarding pass issuance has been significantly optimized, baggage processing seems to be the next bottleneck at airports. The queues have migrated from the traditional check-in desks, to the kiosks, and now to the baggage drop desks.
Consistent with their wish to reduce costs and to improve passenger services, airlines and airport operators keep looking for ways to simplify and to speed up baggage drop and thereby to eliminate the lines. However, they cannot afford an expensive redesign of their existing baggage handling systems.
IER has designed a new baggage check-in solution which is both very easy to install and fully compatible with existing Baggage Handling Systems. The IER system relies on permanent bag labels to allow fully automated baggage drop without any agent interaction.
This solution eliminates the task of attaching the existing barcode bag tag to the luggage. Passengers will still need tags attached to their bags; however, the IER-designed tag will be a simpler, highly secure RFID Permanent Tag which passengers can attach before arriving at the airport.
Secure RFID Tags and Cards
This solution requires preliminary enrolment on the part of passengers through the airline, airport or service provider web site, or via participation in an airline or airport loyalty program. Each passenger enrolled in the program receives a set containing 1 Frequent Flyer Card with a RFID chip and 2 or 3 RFID Permanent Baggage Tags. The documents are secured with a unique RFID LPC (License Plate Code) and are assigned specifically to the enrolled passenger.
Tags can be issued initially to frequent flyers residing in certain cities where the automated bag drop is installed. Other passengers can enroll in the program and purchase the secured RFID documents for a fee. This RFID Frequent Flyer card can also be used for identification of a passenger at the check-in desk or at the boarding gate.
Luggage / Baggage Drop Process
At the time of check-in on the web, via a cell phone, or at the self-service kiosk, the passenger declares the number of bags he or she intends to drop off. This declaration step confirms baggage ownership and eliminates fraudulent baggage drop. It also reduces the transaction time of the drop off, avoiding creation of a new bottleneck.
At the baggage drop off point, the passenger scans the RFID card or boarding pass for identification purposes. The passenger places the bag on the belt where it is then weighed automatically. The attached RFID tag is read by an RFID reader array. The system verifies that the passenger has a valid reservation and has pre-declared bag(s). If the bag is overweight, a message is displayed and the passenger can pay an extra fee either at the kiosk or at a manned desk. If the bag is accepted, it proceeds to the main belt. If not, it is returned to the passenger.
The accepted baggage is then processed behind the scenes, in the bag room, by airport staff who read the RFID tags and print and attach a standard barcoded bag tag to each piece of luggage for compatibility with existing systems. The bags then continue through the BHS process normally.
With this automated drop off solution, security is actually better than with the current system. It requires the passenger to check-in on line or at a kiosk prior to using the automated bag drop. The bags are not accepted without a valid check-in transaction. The passengers are uniquely identified via their Frequent Flyer card and can only drop their bags if they are checked-in on a flight leaving from the assigned airport within 4 hours (configurable). The bags are uniquely identified via the RFID permanent tags specifically associated with the passenger. Passengers cannot mistakenly substitute bags or randomly insert unclaimed bags fraudulently into the system.
As this program requires an enrolment on the airline web site, the level of security can be customized by allowing access only to adults, for example, or by requiring an address or a driver’s license number. Lastly, all bags are scanned for hazardous materials and explosives as per normal security practice. These procedures reduce the chance of an illegitimate bag being introduced in the system, as well as reduce the possibility of a bag being tagged to the wrong destination thereby decreasing the number of mishandled bags.
A flexible, Conformable Solution
This self-contained, modular system can be installed in existing check-in areas and requires that only one agent be present for a number of automatic drop-off stations. It is a first step in deploying RFID without requiring an RFID infrastructure in the entire airport. It is a flexible solution easy to interface with the airline process and easy to integrate into the airport infrastructure.
It meets the challenges that airlines and airports are facing today, namely reducing costs and improving passenger satisfaction. Airlines will be able to optimize staff resources, will improve their passengers’ travel experiences and will benefit from the lower cost of RFID permanent tags as compared to disposable RFID tags. Airports will make a better use of space and will improve passenger processing time, without undertaking major changes to their existing infrastructure. Lastly, passengers will benefit from enhanced customer service, reduced queue times, and a greater feeling of empowerment throughout their journey.