Pilot Mark Vanhoenacker describes the history and careful design of the everyday baggage tag, from the synthetic material it’s printed on, to the information each modern tag contains.
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.
It’s funny how something so commonplace like a sticky loop label goes through these iterations. There are people behind these things who think about the ins and outs of how something works, no matter how small they might seem, so that we don’t have to. We just tear them off, toss ’em in the trash, and move on to the next one, because that’s what they were made for.