A Mobile Solution That Carries its Weight

It's a road warrior's nightmare and we've all been there. Returning from a business trip I found myself in the midst of a blizzard at Chicago's O'Hare Airport. After sitting on the runway for 45 minutes while the ground crew scraped ice off the wings, we took off in what seemed like whiteout conditions. When we landed in Los Angeles I thought the ordeal was over.

But after waiting 25 minutes with the other passengers for the bags to start dropping onto the carousel, I realized I was caught in a classic customer service crisis for which there was no apparent cure. The airline's CSRs had no idea the luggage for the entire flight was missing until a large and very frustrated crowd amassed at their desk. Then they had to take down--long hand, mind you--the name, address, phone number and luggage description of every individual on the flight. It was hours before I was out of the airport and a day and a half before my luggage was in hand.

Amazing, considering the airline had most of that information somewhere in their databases. As a customer--and a high-value one at that--it angered me that every part of their system involving booking and payment was modern and customer-centric, while after-the-fact problems like finding lost luggage were handled just as they were 50 years ago.

But now a new Bluetooth wireless e-tagging technology called BlueTags from a Denmark-based company of the same name may change all that. By attaching an e-tag to a briefcase, suitcase or portable PC, an airport employee or passenger will be able to track the object during its travels. And because the Bluetooth system is a two-way, short-range wireless network, the intelligent e-tag system allows the airport's computer system to remotely download previous tracking information, allowing it to match bags with passengers.

BlueTags has partnered with UK-based Red-M to provide the Bluetooth networking expertise and with Cerulic to deploy the technology in the U.S., which could begin by the end of the year. Graham Carter, Red-M's product line manager, expects BlueTags to be adopted by individual airlines first for competitive purposes before airports themselves deploy it generally. "Initially, it will become available to closed groups like frequent flyer clubs," says Graham. "Your airline credit card will be Bluetooth-enabled so you scan it when you check in."

BlueTags also recently partnered with travel systems provider Sabre to enable entire itineraries to be downloaded to a tag. Upon arrival at a travellers' destination, messages can be transmitted to the passengers Web-enabled mobile phone or wireless device with information regarding the location of their bag.

If it catches on, the eight million airline passengers a year who lose their luggage may find they are carrying considerably less emotional baggage.

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