Under the guise of making check-in as seamless a process as possible, airlines have strived to put as much in the hands of the passenger as possible. The baggage-drop has been the one sticky area that continues to demand a level of interaction with staff. That is slated to become a thing of the past, however, as more carriers opt to handover that responsibility to flyers.
Last month, Iberia launched MyBagTag, a system of print-at-home luggage tags aimed at shaving minutes off the check-in process. Iberia is the first European carrier to introduce such a process.
"It's like the fast track at McDonald's," says Dimitris Bountolos, Iberia's customer experience director.
"Everything is more or less organized by the customer. They manage themselves, and it allows us to manage them faster."
Passengers weigh their bags at home, fill in the weight and measurements online, then print out the tags on an A4 piece of paper, which they fold in fourths and stick in a reusable plastic sheaths (available for free at any Spanish airport). The extra effort at home pays off, says Bountolos.
Bag to the future: British Airways' e-ink reusable luggage tag.
"Traditionally, we get congested during the summer season. Customers can wait ten to 15 minutes to check in their bags," he explains. "We've brought that down to 30 seconds per customer."
A handful of other airlines have been experimenting with self-bag tag over the last year. Alaska Airlines, American and Air Canada are a few of the carriers that have started to set up bag tag kiosks throughout a handful of airports. More are expected to embrace the concept in the next few years.
"It's a trend we'll see broadly across the industry over the next ten to 20 years," says Hunter Keay, a senior airline analyst at Wolfe Research.
"It certainly reduced the bottleneck at check-in, though ultimately it's about reducing costs for the airlines," he says. A savings, he adds, that could ultimately be passed on to customers.
British Airways, meanwhile, has taken a more technical approach, and is planning to introduce reusable electronic baggage tags by January 2015. The tags, in Kindle fashion, use e-ink, and customers upload their travel itinerary by checking-in using British Airways' smartphone app and holding their phones over the tag. Once at the airport, they can then drop-off their bags and go.
"It's not just about saving time, but giving customers choice," says Finola O'Sullivan, Birtish Airways' customer service delivery manager. Though she estimates the times savings are little more than a minute, it's the psychology of the thing that flyers value.
"When they're doing things themselves, it feels like time passes quicker than when they're standing around waiting for somebody," she says.