Tag, You're It: A First Look at Airports' Self-Service Bag-Tagging

Modern technology provides us with the tools to live fast-paced and efficiently, but we all know how challenging it can be to keep up. Go ahead and admit it – you've stood in line for the latest iPad or iPhone just to make sure you had the coolest gadget, and you will do it again. After all, look at what the latest technologies allow you to do: they tether you to the world of social media; they allow you to quickly send pictures, messages and emails; they basically allow you to avoid personal interaction and communication altogether. Whoa, what was that last one? Avoid personal interaction? Yes, these amazing technologies that afford you the ability to do so much also afford you the ability to do so little, especially in terms of personal interaction.

In the aviation industry, technology advances have certainly led to reduced personal interaction, even though the trend seems counterintuitive to customer service. You can purchase your plane ticket, check in for your flight, change seats and check your baggage all online. You can even download your boarding pass to your smartphone and walk right to the gate. And even though these digital capabilities reduce in-person exchanges, many people are still happy to be more in control of their flying experience.

So what's the next technological aviation innovation going to be? I'll give you a hint: it's the answer to those helpless feelings of "I hope she tagged my bag to the right city" and "I wonder if I’ll ever see that suitcase again…." Yes, it's self-service bag tagging, the latest innovation in the ever-evolving arena of the customer self-service process. Many airports in Europe, Asia, India and Canada have successfully used the self-tagging process for years, so how exactly does it work?

First, you confirm how many bags you’re checking – either at a check-in kiosk or online – and then you proceed to the self-tagging kiosk. You scan your boarding pass, place your bag on the scale to ensure it meets size and weight requirements (if it's too heavy, you can use your credit card at the kiosk to pay an "extra weight" fee; if it's too large, the bag is rejected and an agent will come to assist you), and a bag tag is printed out. Then you apply it to your bag and scan it for activation as you drop the bag on an outbound conveyor. It's introduced into the system and tracked for delivery to the outbound aircraft – no muss, no fuss. There are even animated videos walking you through the process.

It's easy to think that self-tagging will serve as a positive next step in the aviation-industry self-service process, but there are certainly concerns about straying too far from more traditional customer-service offerings. After all, we witnessed the initial rise in popularity of grocery-store self-checkout lanes, only to sit back and watch as grocer after grocer decided to scale back these lanes because they were concerned about an increase in user frustrations and a decrease in one-on-one customer interaction. 

It's probably too early to say if airports will continue the trend toward 100% self-service or whether – like in grocery stores – they'll end up offering customers some options: either proceeding through a do-it-yourself area or visiting the traditional agent counters for a full-service experience. But we know that some self-tagging pilot programs already underway in Austin, Redmond and Boston, and broader programs are likely to be implemented in more airports this year. Our team will be watching with great interest as these airports begin to gauge travellers' opinions about self-tagging and as the greater aviation industry continues to navigate the world of customer self-service.

Weigh in: do you welcome the addition of more automated self-service programs by airports and airlines or do you prefer more personalized customer service?

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