Welcome to the September 2008 issue of "Smart Traveler". The newsletter with tips and information to help make your traveling smoother.
of The Future: Luggage Tags That "Talk"
Tomorrow's high-tech luggage tags will look nearly the same as
today's low-tech tags with bar codes.Five years from now, travelers
may smile at old photographs of today's bar code labels for luggage.
In addition to Las Vegas, Hong Kong, and Amsterdam using new
“smart” baggage tags, London (at Heathrow's terminal 3), Paris,
Milan (at Terminal 2), Dubai, Kuala Lumpur, Tokyo (Narita), Beijing,
and a few small airports around the U.S., are currently trialing
this technology for full use in the near future. The goal is to make
sure every passenger arrives at their destination with their
bags—which doesn't happen for about eight of every 1,000 passengers
in the U.S. right now.
Here's how the technology works: A disposable paper luggage tag is
implanted with a radio frequency identification (RFID) tag, which is
a microchip that's the size of a pin and as thin as a sticker. When
this RFID tag passes within several feet of an antenna, it "wakes
up" and acts like it's a transponder for a major radio station,
beaming out radio signals. By broadcasting its location, a smart tag
makes it easier and cheaper to track a bag.
Right now, it's common for bar code labels to get torn or folded,
making them very difficult for scanners to read automatically. The
new smart tags could reduce errors in reading baggage tags from the
current 10 percent estimate to between 1 and 0.5 percent.
Let's say an airline worker needs to find a bag in a giant pile of
luggage. Under the current bar code tracking system, an employee
would have to hand sort the bags and scan each bar code
individually. But using the new chip-based technology, workers can
use a device like a beach-combing metal detector to beam out a
signal for faster tracking of a lost bag. If the bag is in the pile,
the hand-held scanner will make a noise.
The smart tags also prevent the loss of luggage. Under the previous
bar-code-based system, luggage tracking through airports was limited
to just a couple of points, such as at a check-in counter, at an
airplane's cargo hold, and at a baggage carousel, because of the
high cost of the equipment. In-between these distant points are
"black holes" where many bags go astray.
The technology provides a more affordable means for covering the gap
with a series of new checkpoints. Each time a bag passes an
antenna—such as at a check-in counter, in a storage room, in a
plane's luggage compartments, and at a baggage-claim carousel—it
will be recorded in a computer database. These computer records will
allow airlines to precisely find a bag—or figure out where a bag was
last seen—by checking when and where a bag's tag was last "read" by
The technology, while not new, is becoming cheap enough to allow
airports to install antennas throughout an airport. Today's tags
cost about 15 to 20 cents a piece on average. In comparison, the
cost of dealing with lost and mishandled luggage is estimated to by
other organizations to be about $100 per bag on average.
McCarran airport, in Las Vegas, was one of the first airports to use
this technology to track checked-in bags and make sure bags make
their flights after being screened by L-3 explosives-detection
machines. Officials at other airports look to Vegas system for its
increase efficiency in handling and tracking bags. In addition, this
improved “smart” baggage tracking system helps to centralize all the
explosives-detection equipment in one place. Unlike other airports,
which clutter the floor next to every airline's check-in counter
with the security machines--Vegas uses the freed-up floor space to
host slot machines and other money-making businesses.
Hong Kong's main international airport has already installed the
system. You can check your bags at counters at the downtown train
station or at the front desks of a few major hotels. Another perk:
Hong Kong is a major transfer hub for passengers. In addition to the
airports’ efficient check-in benefits, the airport provides a
speedier connection time because bags are more efficiently tracked,
sorted, and placed onto connecting flights. The result is that
passengers are able to enjoy shorter wait times between transfers
and trust that their bags will meet them at their destination.
One of the main things delaying the switch-over from bar codes to
RFID tags is money. As the industry faces rising fuel costs,
airports and airlines may put off the investment.
United Will Cut
Free Meals On Many Overseas Fights
Starting Oct. 1, United Airlines will stop serving
free meals to coach-class passengers on transatlantic flights
between Washington D.C. (Dulles airport) and destinations in Europe.
It's the first U.S. airline to stop distributing free meals on
transatlantic flights. The airline will offer salads and sandwiches
Meals in first and business classes will remain free for
transatlantic flights. But for most domestic flights, business class
will no longer get free meals. And the price of meals for flights
within the U.S. will also rise.
No word yet on whether flight attendants will be able to handle all
the cash payments. The game of "does anyone have small bills?" will
get very old on a long transatlantic flight. I hope they'll give
hand-held, credit-card reading machines to them, like US Airways is
giving some of its flight attendants on domestic flights. (Virgin
Atlantic has credit-card swipe readers on each seatback.)
checklist: 7 simple steps
How can you prepare for next business trip? Here, is a checklist of
seven simple -- yet easily forgotten -- steps to take before
ONE WEEK BEFORE TAKEOFF
Freshen up your suitcases. Air out your bags before
you pack. And next time you put luggage away, leave air freshener
sachets in the pockets.
Stock up on storage bags for small items. Our
favorites: Stephanie Johnson designs stylish Dopp kits with
protective plastic interiors; a nylon-lined cotton sack by Zazendi
is well suited for wet swim gear; and the drawstring laundry bag by
Flight 001 is treated with polyurethane, which keeps odors under
THREE DAYS BEFORE TAKEOFF
Get your gadgets in order. Empty memory cards and
charge your phone and camera. Consolidate power cords, chargers, and
extra batteries in your carry-on (new DOT regulations prohibit
putting them in checked luggage). Pick up the Tumi Electronics
Charger Kit, with adapters that work in 150 countries.
Refill necessary prescriptions. Bring medications with
you on the plane; make sure they are properly labeled according to
Copy important documents. Carry paper duplicates of
your passport, visa, and itinerary, and e-mail yourself electronic
copies. With a password-protected itinerary on Google Docs, close
friends and family can keep track of where you are.
Pare down your travel wallet. Only bring essential
documents: driver's license, medical insurance cards, passport, and
credit cards. (T+L Tip: Alert your bank and credit card companies
before you depart, so that they won't be alarmed by out-of-town
charges and ATM withdrawals.)
ONE DAY BEFORE TAKEOFF
Record the contents of your suitcase. Take pictures of
your clothes, shoes, and jewelry, which will serve as documentation
if your bag is lost or stolen. Download the shots onto your home
computer, just in case.
For Deals and Service, Reconsider a
While most travelers
were trying to get through to their airlines, travel agents were
sitting at their computer rescheduling and rerouting clients last
week coping with the disruptions of Hurricane Ike. And it raises
again the issue of why—despite the Internet—so many travelers
continue to rely on travel agents. Maybe you should think about
doing the same.
There are two reasons for placing “assistance” it at or near the
The massive disruptions of two recent hurricanes highlight the way
natural events—weather, earthquake, fires, whatever—can impact
travel plans and how extensive the disruptions can be.
Upcoming and inevitable airline schedule cutbacks are going to
require that lots of you make drastic alterations to your
itineraries and trips.
When something goes
wrong—either before you leave or when you're already on your trip—a
travel agent is your best source of help. Whether it's an airline
snafu or a natural disaster, you often have to rebook flights,
accommodations, and other travel arrangements. When you have advance
notice, as in the case of a permanent schedule change, you could
probably do your own rescheduling. But chances are an agent could do
a quicker and better job than you could.
Agent support is even
more important in a last-minute problem. Those are the times when
you'll probably find it almost impossible to reach an overloaded
reservation phone line or work your way through a long line at an
understaffed airport counter. Instead, a quick call will get an
agent working on your case immediately.
assistance in a pinch, travel agent advantages remains valid:
Knowledge and counsel. The main reason so many leisure travelers
use travel agents is to take advantage of their specialized
knowledge of destinations, local deals, and such, plus their
counsel when trying to select a destination or activity.
Time saving. The main reason so many business travelers rely on
agents to make their travel arrangements is to save time and
hassle. If you've ever spent several hours online searching for a
hotel deal or airfare, you'll know why.
Good deals. Good agents know what's available through the same
Internet sites you might visit on your own. In addition, agents
can search their GDS computer reservation systems, not available
to the public, for deals that might not be on the Internet.
Airline tricks. Online booking is simple for buying
straightforward one-way, round-trip, or even multi-stop air
tickets. But some international air ticketing rules are arcane,
and a good travel agent knows cost-cutting tricks that you could
never find online.
If you decide to use a
travel agent, my suggestion is that you use the agent for all your
travel needs, not just when you think you might face a hurricane or
blizzard. The more a travel agent knows about your personal
preferences, the better job he/she can do for you. And although
agents don't slack on any customer, steady clients get more
attention than the once-every-five-year types. If you like to check
trip details out on the Internet, that's fine: Just tell the agent
what you've found. And if you're wary of online researching and
booking, an agent is about the only way you can come even close to
finding the best deals.
Remember: Without a travel agent you're on
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