The Beauty of the Airline Baggage Tag 行李标签的秘密

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The Beauty of the Airline Baggage Tag 行李标签的秘密

帖子  Pao-西安 于 周三 十一月 21, 2012 12:44 pm

The Beauty of the Airline Baggage Tag 行李标签的秘密

The poet Maya Angelou once said you can tell a lot about a person from the way they respond to three things: a rainy day, tangled Christmas lights, and lost luggage.

Maya, Maya. Where were you at 2 a.m. the dark night I arrived in Paris without my bags? I needed my suit for the next morning, not folksy aphorisms or your musings on why the caged bird sings. Personally, I find the caged bird sings most beautifully when he has his laptop charger and toothbrush.



We’ll never know quite how Dr. Angelou would cope with the news that a vacation’s worth of clean underwear has been flown to the wrong Portland. But she’s right to suggest that lost luggage is a near-universal experience. Every frequent traveler will at some point face the drifting tumbleweed on the baggage belt.

Still, if most of us have a tale of luggage gone wrong, it’s not because airlines lose a lot of bags. It’s because we fly so much. In July alone, 53 million passengers boarded domestic flights. Only about one-third of 1 percent reported a mishandled bag. Given the phenomenal scale of American aviation (measured in seats and miles, the U.S. market is three times larger than any other) and our reliance on luggage-juggling hub airports, that’s an excellent result. Even caged birds are treated pretty well by modern air travel (though remarkably, they do get airsick): In July, U.S. airlines lost just one pet.

This success is largely due to the humdrum baggage tag. That random sticky strip you rip off your suitcase when you get home? It’s actually a masterpiece of design and engineering. Absent its many innovations, you’d still be able to jet from Anchorage to Abu Dhabi. But your suitcase would be much less likely to meet you there. (Disclosure: I am a pilot for an airline that’s not mentioned in this article.)

First a little history. In the old days—we’re talking steamships—there were two kinds of tags for luggage. Best known are the labels affixed to trunks. Often these were pure advertising for the shipping line, with no room for personal information—for some beautiful examples click here and here. The other kind of tag—a destination tag—was more practical, though still aesthetically pleasing. One side often bore the line’s logo, as in this classic Cunard White Star tag. The reverse held information such as the passenger’s name, destination, stateroom and whether the bag was “Wanted in Stateroom” or “Not Wanted on Voyage.”

Early on, airlines offered labels that mimicked maritime-style advertising stickers, with lovely results. But initially, airlines had no need for destination tags: As the International Air Transport Association explained to me, “a passenger’s chauffeur would drive the passenger to the aircraft side, and stewards would load the passenger’s bags directly from the car to the aircraft.” Nice.

As air travel expanded beyond the perfumed realms of the chauffeured, destination tags became a necessity. Maritime tags were the model, but with the occasional important tweak, as Melissa Keiser, an archivist for the National Air and Space Museum, points out. What is inconsequential to ocean liners and railways, but vital to airlines? Weight. It’s critical that airlines know how much bags weigh, and how they’re distributed around the plane. According to Keiser, a space for weight was commonplace on airline tags by the 1920s. “Separable” baggage tags, which featured a removable receipt for travelers, had first been developed for railways in 1882 (check out the excellent patent application). By the 1930s, says Keiser, they too had been widely adopted in aviation.

But as aviation grew still further, airline tags shed their maritime and railway heritage. Compare the two tags below: a Pan Am tag from the 1950s, and a modern tag of the sort an airline will put on your bag today.





The modern tag is known as an automated baggage tag, and was first tried by many airlines in the early 1990s. Perhaps the earliest airline to implement ABTs system-wide was United, in 1992, according to Jon Barrere, a spokesperson for Print-O-Tape, a tag manufacturer and United’s partner on the project. Let’*amine in detail the myriad improvements offered by the ABT, which symbolize as perfectly as anything air travel’s transition from a rare luxury for the ultra-rich to safe, effective transport for a shrinking planet.

Let’s look first at how an ABT is made. In the interconnected, automated, all-weather world of modern aviation, tags must be resistant to cold, heat, sunlight, ice, oil, and especially moisture. Tags also can’t tear—and crucially, if they’re nicked, they must not tear further—as the bag lurches through mechanized airport baggage systems. And the tag must be flexible, inexpensive, and disposable. Plain old paper can’t begin to meet all these requirements. The winning combination is what IATA’s spokesperson described as a “complex composite” of silicon and plastic; the only paper in it is in the adhesive backing.

Bag tags must meet another set of contradictory requirements. They must be easy to attach, but impossible to detach—until, that is, the bag arrives safely at its destination and the traveler wants to detach it. Old tags were fastened with a string through a hole, but mechanized baggage systems eat these for breakfast. The current loop tag, a standardized strip of pressure-sensitive adhesive, looped through a handle and pressed to form an adhesive-to-adhesive bond, debuted with the ABT in the early ’90s. And the ABT, unlike string tags and earlier loop-y tag ideas, is easily attached to items that lack handles—boxes, say. Simply remove the entire adhesive backing and the loop tag becomes a very sticky sticker.

The simple genius of the looped tag alone explains why so few bags get lost. On a string-tied tag, according to a spokesperson for Intermec, a tag and printer manufacturer, “the primary stress is applied to a very small section of the tag. With looped tags, force is distributed over the entire width of the tag.” Of the few bags that are lost these days, only 3 percent involve “tag-offs,” the industry term for a detached tag. It almost never happens. Thank you,oh looped tag.

Of course while tags must remain rigorously attached, they must also be easy for passengers to remove. Intermec’s spokesperson raves about the adhesive’*cellent flow properties”—in layman’s terms, simply grab the loop from the inside, with two hands, and gently pull apart to remove the tag. A couple of other clever innovations: Like the tags themselves, the adhesive must be all-weather. Early adhesives couldn’t cope with extreme cold, so snowy tarmacs would end up littered with detached tags (and lost bags). Also, passengers don’t want sticky residue left on their bag’s handles—so the adhesive’s backing is designed to stay in place on the inside of the loop.

Finally, let’s look at what’s on the tag itself. In the old days, tags were blank and would be filled in by hand, according to a spokesperson for SITA, an aviation technology group. Later on tags preprinted with the destination were introduced, eventually bearing the three-letter airport codes we know and love today (and some we no longer know—such as IDL, for Idlewild, the previous name for New York’s JFK Airport). As airline operations became more complex, elaborate color schemes were designed to help handlers quickly identify where a bag was bound.

But preprinted tags, manually read by baggage handlers, couldn’t cope with the world’s ever-growing volume of passengers and bags, let alone the increase in connecting flights with ever-shorter connecting times at ever-bigger and busier airports. The solution was the ABT’s combination of two features: custom printing and a bar code.

Just as you can track, step-by-step, a package you’ve sent by FedEx, airlines use bar-coded tags to sort and track bags automatically, through the airport, and across the world. That’s a huge change from the old days, when bags were dropped into the “black box” of a manually sorted baggage system. But crucially, an ABT doesn’t just contain a bar code—it’s also custom-printed with your name, flight details, and destination. That made the global implementation of ABTs much easier, because early-adopters could introduce them long before every airport was ready—a huge advantage when it comes to seamlessly connecting the world’s least and most advanced airports. And of course, ABTs can still be read manually when systems break down.

While bar codes have changed many industries, aviation has made special use of them. For example, bar codes reduce delays by computerizing the task of ensuring that every bag that’s loaded on a plane is matched to a passenger who’s actually boarded—an important security measure. And rough-and-tumble baggage systems present a much more challenging and three-dimensional environment than, say, a supermarket checkout. So note how the ABT’s bar code makes two appearances on the tag, offset by 90 degrees. It’s a small tweak that greatly improves readability by automatic and hand-held scanners.

Note, too, the small extra labels that each bear a copy of the bar code. Technically known as bingo tags, removable stubs, or stubbies, these were originally detached to help airlines track which bags were loaded. These days they’re often placed on your bag as another safeguard against a detached tag. (Ironically, stubbies from your previous flight can confuse airport scanners on your next flight—be sure to remove them after each trip.)

What’s next for bag tags? RFID tagging, which allows bags to be identified wirelessly: Think electronic toll collection on highways. Hong Kong, an early adopter, deployed RFID tags airport-wide in 2008. Until most airports can handle RFID tags, however, RFID tags can’t replace today’s standard bag tags. An early work-around was to add an extra RFID sticker to bags; now, the RFID tag can be embedded in the standard ABT loop tag. Other bag tag developments include self-tagging at the airport, as well as home-printed bag tags. But home-tagging passengers have to fold the tag into a plastic display case—hardly a high-tech solution.

In the very long term, perhaps the answer is the permanent bag tag—a durable, RFID-equipped tag that’s yours to keep and attach to whatever bag you’d like to check in. Launched in Australia in 2010 for certain domestic flights, permanent tags make checking in a bag nearly painless. But these permanent tags can’t go global until everyone’s ready to use them. And there’s no manual backup.

Permanent tags may offer one unexpected and welcome advantage. Melissa Keiser, the Smithsonian’s archivist, laments that by the 1950s, practical concerns eliminated the last vestiges of beauty from luggage tags. But with permanent tags, the RFID mechanism is hidden inside, and there’s no need for any data or machine-readable codes to appear on the tag itself. If permanent tags ever do go global, then in one sense they’ll be a return to the golden age of travel: There’ll be no excuse for them to not look good.

行李标签的秘密


曾以《我知道笼中鸟为何唱歌》一书闻名的美国著名作家兼诗人玛雅·安吉洛说过,想了解某个人,只要看看他如何处理以下三件事:大雨突降、圣诞彩灯缠成一团,还有遗失行李。

漆黑的夜晚,凌晨两点我抵达巴黎机场,行李却没到。玛雅啊玛雅,这可怎么办?明天一早,我需要的是西装,不是家喻户晓的格言,或沉思笼中鸟为何唱歌。有充电器和牙刷用时,笼中鸟的歌声才最美。

为整个假期准备的干净内衣被错运到了波特兰,不知道安吉洛博士遇到这样的情况会怎么办,但我赞同她的一个观点:丢行李是寻常不过的事。经常出行的人都见到过行李标签漂落在行李传带时的情形。

尽管如此,我们大多数都有过行李出麻烦的经历,却不能说航空公司经常弄丢行李,只能说明我们飞行得太频繁了。仅7月份,全美就有5300万人乘坐国内航班,而报失托运行李仅有约千分之三。笼中的鸟儿也受到了相当尊贵的待遇(尽管她们确实有明显的晕机症状):7月份,美国各航空公司加起来仅丢失了一只宠物。

对于如此大的运输规模而言,这样的成绩足以令人自豪。虽然在乘客看来,地勤人员把行李被扔来扔去,有野蛮作业的嫌疑,但最终它们确实完好无损地与乘客同机到达。这一切主要归功于不起眼的行李标签。事实上,事实上,行李标签堪称工程设计的杰作。如果没有它的许多创新,虽说你仍可以从安克雷奇飞到阿布扎比,但是你的行李箱就未必与你一同抵达了。

航空行李标签的昨天

提到航空行李标签,先来了解一段历史吧。在早年的汽船时代,行李标签只有两种。最为人熟知的是贴在行李箱上的那种。通常这类标签完全是航运公司的广告,不含任何个人信息。另一种标签即目的地标签,则更实用些,尽管仍赏心悦目。其正面印有船运公司的商标,如卡纳德白星公司的经典款标签;反面则有乘客姓名、目的地、船舱号以及行李是“随身携带”还是“不需中途取用行李”等信息。

早期,航空公司提供的行李牌模仿的是海运风格的广告贴纸,很讨喜。但最初,航空公司并不需要目的地行李牌。正如国际航空运输协会向我解释的,“司机会把客人送上飞机,而乘务员会负责将乘客的行李直接从车上挪到飞机上。” 好极了。但当空中旅行不断延伸,超出了送客司机力所能及的范围,目的地行李牌便成为了一种必需品。

但航空行李标签毕竟不同于海运标签,什么对水运和铁路来说无关紧要,但却对航空至关重要呢?答案是重量,航空公司必须知道行李的重量以及在机舱内的分布。因此,上世纪20年代前的航空标签上普遍留有空间标明行李重量。“可分离式”行李牌是在1882年首次为铁路系统采用,特点是摘下来就可以让旅行者作收据使用。到了上世纪30年代,这些行李牌也广泛运用于航空运输中。

但随着航空业的进一步发展,航空行李牌的样式也推陈出新。现代行李标签称为自动化行李标签,20世纪90年代初期被许多航空公司率先使用,先行者是美国联合航空公司,时间是1992年。让我们仔细研究一下航空行李标签取得的无数进步,这些进步完美地象征着航空旅行从超级富豪的奢侈享受转变成一种安全高效的普通运输方式。

行李标签上的秘密

首先我们来看看一条航空行李标签的制作过程。

现代航空业将全世界紧密联系,自动化操作且必须适应各种气候。因此,行李标签必须耐寒、耐热、耐阳光、耐冰、耐油、尤其是耐湿度。标签尤其不能被撕破,即使已有破损,不能进一步扩大,因为行李得通过机械化的机场行李系统的检测。而且标签必须有韧性、便宜、用后即可丢弃。普通的旧纸无法满足所有这些条件。最终一个完美的组合就是国际航协发言人描述的硅和塑料的“复杂合成体”。标签里只有胶粘底布为纸质材料。

行李标签还必须满足一对矛盾需求——容易粘贴但又不易撕下,除非安全抵达目的地时,主人想把它们撕下来。老式的标签是一根细绳穿过标签上的小孔系在行李上,但是机械化的行李系统常常把它们当成“早餐”吃掉。现在的圈形标签为压敏性的标准粘带,穿过行李把手后,两面对压形成双粘纽带。在20世纪90年代这种航空行李标签首次亮相。与绳线行李标签和更早的愚蠢标签理念相比是,现在的航空行李标签更容易粘在没有把手的行李上,如盒子。只要撕掉整块胶粘底布,再折成圈,标签就变成粘性超强的胶带了。

圈形行李签简简单单的天才设计足以解释为何只有极少数的行李被弄丢。系绳标签的压力主要局限在其上面的很小区域,而使用圈形标签的话,整个标签都承受了一定压力。如今丢失的少数行李中,只有3%的“标签脱落”。这要感谢圈形标签,极少发生脱落现象。

当然,尽管行李标签粘性很强,也要方便旅客轻易把它们取下来。粘合剂具有卓越的流动性能,用外行人的话说,就是要想去除标签,只需双手从里面拉这个环,然后轻轻地拉开。还有其它的足智多谋的创新:如标签本身,粘合剂必须适合各种气候。早期的粘合剂不耐严寒,下雪天,停机坪上到处是脱落的行李签(和没有行李签的包)。同样,乘客们不希望粘糊糊留在自己行李的提手上。所以,把粘合剂的衬垫设计在圆环部分的内侧。

最后,让我们来看看在标签上写了些什么。SITA是一个航空技术组织,它的发言人说,以前的标签是空白的,需手工填写。后来,采用预先印上目的地的标签,最终演化成了我们现在所知并且钟爱的三个字母的航空公司代码。由于航空业务的日益复杂,设计出详尽的颜色方案用来帮助操作者快速识别包裹目的地。

但是,预印标签需人工读取,无法应对世界上乘客和包裹数量的持续增长,更不用说机场不断扩大,转机愈加频繁,时间不断缩短。解决方案是将航空行李标签的定制印刷和条形码完美结合起来。

现代化行李标签

  正如你可以逐步跟踪用联邦快递寄出的包裹,航空公司可以通过机场,在世界范围内用条形码标签自动整理和跟踪包裹。以前,包裹被放进人工整理包裹系统的黑箱里,如今大不相同。但是,至关重要的一点,航空行李标签不仅仅包含条形码,还包含你的姓名,航班的详情,目的地的定制信息。使它在全球范围内的应用变得更简便,因此早期采用者可以在其他机场完善前长期使用。无缝联结运用到最先进的机场和落后的机场,这是个很大的优势。当然,当系统瘫痪时,仍然可以人工读取。
  
尽管条形码已经改变了许多产业,在航空业中的运用却是独特的。例如,条形码通过计算机作业,确保装载的每一个包裹都和实际登机的乘客相匹配,这是一个很重要的安全措施,同时也减少了飞机延误。据说,复杂的行李系统比超市的结账系统更有挑战性和三维性。请注意行李标签是如何通过两个偏置90度条形码这一小小的改变,极大的提高了自动和手提式的扫描仪的辨识度。

也请注意一下显示条形码副本的那些小标签。专业术语叫做宾果标签,或可取下存根。最初这些标签被撕下来是帮助航空公司追踪装载的行李。现在常贴在行李上,作为标签脱落后的第二重保障。(讽刺的是,旅客上次飞行留下的行李标签会扰乱机场扫描仪对下一航班的判断—所以,每次飞行后都要把它们撕下来。)下一代行李标签会是什么样呢?射频识别标签。它可以通过无线信号识别行李。想想高速路上的电子收费系统。香港作为这种技术的早期采用者,2008起,机场广泛使用射频识别标签。不过,大多机场还没采用射频识别标签,它不能取代现今的标准行李标签。

行李标签的未来

目前,几乎所有的机场和航空公司都采用21英寸长的粘贴性纸质标签,正面打印目的机场、航空公司、航班号和乘客的姓名和国际航空协会(IATA)三个字母的代码,及与同样航班信息相对应的10位数牌照条码。纸质行李标签帮助航空公司和机场员工确保行李送到的飞机。然而,纸质标签的实际读取率通常只能达到60-90%,由于标签经常纠结在一起,肉眼或条码扫描仪无法成功读取。2009年,一家机场举行一场超高频行李标签测试,设置行李以全速经过传送带,测试结果发现所有6类被测试的标签读取率都达到了100%。

这款可再用标签包括一个免电池,可变化的电子纸显示屏(显示航班数据),柔韧性强、防静电、防水,坚固耐用。这种产品通过采用电子纸和先进技术,减少纸张标签的浪费和行李丢失率。当乘客到达客运站时,可以将标签放置在行李手柄上。在标签的一面,航空公司可以永久性打印乘客姓名和地址,而对于另一面的屏幕上,航空公司可采用手持或桌面高频阅读器近距离改变电子纸屏幕显示的内容,读取高频芯片,写入目的机场的代码。标签也可以写入其它数据,包括10个数字的牌照号码。高频芯片支持加密,只有机场人员携带阅读器,应用正确的安全密钥,才能获取和编写标签信息。目前这种设备已在拉斯维加斯和香港使用。

另外,为了提高乘客值机速度,全球有32家航空公司已实行标签自动服务,即乘客自己打印并将行李标签贴在行李上。航空公司员工会扫描行李标签,并将行李放到传送带上。航空公司表示,该自助服务不会带来安全威胁,因为这不会改变行李安检的程序,还可降低成本。

行李标签虽小,却藏着大学问,并随着我们的生活一起日新月异。下一次旅行时,你可要对行李标签多加留意哦!


Pao-西安

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