Tougher security regulations in the U.S. than in other parts
of the world have mostly prevented the deployment of unassisted self bag-drop
machines in the country's airports. But though those regulations remain in
place, U.S. airports and airlines are now increasingly exploring self bag-drop
technologies and preparing for the possibility of a rollout.
"We want the most efficient throughput that we can
have," said Stu Williams, senior vice president for special projects at
Denver Airport, which in September ordered 176 machines from the German vendor
Materna that are capable of self bag drop.
The order, which to date is the largest of its kind in the
world, means that by 2020 every bag-drop location at the airport will be
equipped with self-check capability.
"The whole philosophy behind this is to provide an
efficient and customer-friendly service," Williams said.
According to a study released in November by the aviation
industry IT company SITA, which is also a vendor of self bag-drop machines, 45%
of airlines globally offer unassisted bag drop. In such cases, passengers'
identities are typically verified by an agent as they pass through a line to
access the bag-drop machines.
Once at a machine, however, passengers can drop and weigh
their bags, scan their bag tags and boarding passes, then leave their bags to
be routed to their flight, all without further agent contact.
Some machines are also equipped to accept payment for bag
fees or for oversize bags. The newest machines also offer biometric identity
capabilities, paving the way for the possibility of check-in and bag check
without any agent contact at all.
Penetration of self bag-drop machines is high in Europe,
Asia and Canada in particular, according to vendors and IATA manager of
facilitation Hasse Joergensen.
When deployed, such machines can be time-savers. British
discount airline EasyJet, for example, introduced 48 automated bag-drop
machines at London Gatwick in 2016 and said that they reduced line lengths by
more than half. Gary McDonald, Materna's president for North America, said the
average bag-drop time for the 96 machines the company has deployed at Gatwick
is 51 seconds.
For airlines, self bag drop offers other benefits, as well.
McDonald said that at Gatwick one agent can monitor 12 to 14 machines, making
for substantial cost savings in comparison with traditional agent-aided bag
In the U.S., however, TSA rules require that an agent
manually verify that the person physically checking bags is the ticketed
passenger he or she is purporting to be.
The TSA declined to comment on its bag-drop rules for this
report. There are signs, however, that the rule could eventually loosen,
perhaps in conjunction with more widespread deployment of biometric
identification solutions at airports, a process that U.S. Customs and Border
Protection (CBP) is actively facilitating as it works to fulfill a mandate from
Congress to collect biometric records on all foreign nationals departing the
Recently, the TSA also pledged to speed biometric
development, and in October, the agency released a road map for biometric
In the meantime, airlines and airports have begun trial
programs featuring self bag drop.
Delta, American and United, for example, have undertaken
trials of self bag check at Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport. Alaska has tested the
technology in Los Angeles. Delta is deploying biometric self bag check at
Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson Airport as part of an end-to-end biometric journey
it is offering flyers at the airport's international Terminal F. And Miami
Airport is currently partnering with American on a self bag-check trial.
Maurice Jenkins, Miami Airport's head of information
systems, said, "We are looking at whether there is an efficiency to be
gained." He added that preliminary data has suggested the answer is yes.
JetBlue, meanwhile, will begin testing biometric self bag
drop on international flights in early January at two machines in Terminal 5 of
New York's JFK Airport. The machines will use facial recognition cameras to
verify flyers' identities against data held by CBP.
For the trial, an agent will also be at each machine in
order to comply with TSA rules, said Caryl Spoden, JetBlue's director of
customer experience. The TSA will be reviewing the results of the trial.
"We have to essentially prove to them that this method
is just as secure, if not more secure, than the current method," Spoden
JetBlue almost surely won't be the last U.S. carrier or
airport to trial biometric bag drop.
Edward Bauer, senior director of North American airports for
SITA, said the company is seeing increased interest from U.S. airports wanting
to launch trials of various types of self bag-drop technology. But he expects
the momentum to be toward the biometric options as opposed to those that don't
offer identity confirmation.
"Certainly, that is the trend the industry is going to
move toward," Bauer said. "Some airports will deploy agent
verification of IDs as a possible interim solution."
In Denver, airport officials decided to order hybrid
bag-drop machines in order to both accommodate the existing TSA regulatory
regime and to be prepared for a potential future in the U.S. in which
unassisted self bag drop, with and without biometric facial recognition, is
The 176 Materna machines being installed at Denver Airport
are part of a broader overhaul of the airport's central Jeppesen Terminal.
Their addition, Williams said, will provide individual airlines the flexibility
to handle bag check as they choose.
"The whole philosophy behind this is to provide an
efficient and customer-friendly service, whether you are getting tickets or
dropping your bag," Williams said. "And even though this hybrid
system is new, it's efficient with time. It's efficient with airlines as far as
with their staffing needs and, obviously, the flexibility."