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Coming in December: The eTrack and the eTag, from Air France and KLM. The innovations let you drop off your bags without checking them, and track them throughout your journey. (Courtesy of FastTrack Company)

Weekly Innovation: Better Luggage Checking ... And Tracking

Apr 16, 2014

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Elise Hu

In our "Weekly Innovation" blog series, we explore an interesting idea, design or product that you may not have heard of yet. Do you have an innovation to share? Use this quick form.

While the magic of flight is still worth marveling at (Note: This video contains adult language some might find offensive.), the airline industry remains held back in a few areas that really need an upgrade. It's 2014 and you can still find gate agents using dot matrix printers. And we've already written about the hopelessly poor user experience of paper boarding passes.

But at the end of this year, Air France and KLM are rolling out an innovation for the baggage checking part of your journeys. Since checking a bag often means waiting in long lines and mysteriously lost luggage, the airlines have developed a pair of tools to let passengers more easily check and track their luggage: the eTag and the eTrack.

The eTag is a permanent electronic label that lets you load the flight data for the tag at home before the flight, replacing the current airline luggage sticker. It uses Bluetooth technology and syncs with your smartphone, so passengers won't need to relabel bags for each trip — details are updated automatically. But perhaps the most time-saving part of this is that using the eTag means passengers get to just drop off bags at a fast drop, no agent-interaction required.

Separately, the eTrack is a geolocating gadget to pop inside your luggage so you can trace it worldwide. That location information will be available to both the customer (through a smartphone app), and the airline, so if a bag is misplaced or shows up on the wrong aircraft, the airline can get to it.

As you can expect, battery life of the eTrack — the homing device for your bag — will be a bit of a hassle. It needs to be recharged after about 10 flights, depending on how often you ping your suitcase.

While the devices will be sold separately, passengers can use the eTag and eTrack together. The product folks behind the effort say they're hoping these devices become adopted by other airlines across the industry.

"We've worked closely with our suppliers and with Delta to try to make this an industry initiative, not just an airline initiative," Manuel van Lijf, Air France-KLM's product innovation manager, told FutureTravelExperience.com.

"The idea was to create a product that can be used by a passenger flying with Air France, KLM, Delta, Lufthansa or another airline, for instance. Why would a passenger buy a permanent tag that can only be used on one airline?"

There's no price tag on these devices yet, but the airlines have said frequent fliers will get to try them out, first. The plan is to start releasing the eTrack and eTag in December to a small group of travelers and then roll them out to more users.

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Rescuers head toward the ferry Sewol off the southern coast of South Korea on Wednesday. It sank while on a trip to a resort island. Several hundred people, most of them high school students and teachers, are missing. (EPA/Landov)

Hundreds Missing After Ferry Sinks Off South Korea Coast

Apr 16, 2014

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About 300 people, many of them high school students and teachers who were on a trip to a resort island, were missing Wednesday after a ferry disaster off the southern coast of South Korea.

The ship, which left the city of Incheon on South Korea's western coast Tuesday night, sent out a distress signal around 9 a.m. local time on Wednesday. That was 8 p.m. ET Tuesday. The trip south to Jeju Island was supposed to take about 14 hours. According to The Associated Press, the students and teachers are from a high school in Ansan city near Seoul.

By the time rescuers arrived on the scene, the ship was on its side. After about 2 hours, according to NPR's Anthony Kuhn, the ship had turned over completely and most of it was under water. Anthony, who is monitoring the news from Beijing, said on Morning Edition that authorities believe more than 470 people were on board before the ferry went down. It was well below capacity: According to Anthony, the ship can carry as many as 900 passengers.

South Korea's Yonhap News Agency reports that "fears have grown that many of those unaccounted for could be trapped inside the sunken ship and died."

NPR's Frank Langfitt, who is following the news from Shanghai, tells our Newscast Desk that the South Korean Coast Guard reports it rescued at least 164 people before the ferry sank. The water temperature in the area is just above 50 degrees Fahrenheit, Frank reports, and "South Korean authorities say people swimming in water at that temperature show signs of hypothermia after 90 minutes or two hours."

A U.S. Navy ship is heading to the site to assist South Korean rescuers.

According to Yonhap News:

"The cause of the accident was not known, though survivors said they heard a banging noise before the ship suddenly started sinking. Speculation has arisen that the ship might have hit an underwater rock or collided with another vessel. ...

"The ship, which plies between Incheon and Jeju [Island] twice a week, was built in Japan in 1994, is 146 meter long and 22 meter wide, and has the maximum capacity of carrying 921 people, 180 vehicles and 152 shipping containers at the same time."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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Rescuers head toward the ferry Sewol off the southern coast of South Korea on Wednesday. It sank while on a trip to a resort island. Several hundred people, most of them high school students and teachers, are missing. (EPA/Landov)

Police Trace Heavy-Breathing Emergency Caller

Apr 16, 2014 (Morning Edition) — Police near London received a troubling call, and all the dispatcher could hear was heavy breathing. Cops found the caller running through a yard. It was a dog with a wireless phone in its mouth.

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Rescuers head toward the ferry Sewol off the southern coast of South Korea on Wednesday. It sank while on a trip to a resort island. Several hundred people, most of them high school students and teachers, are missing. (EPA/Landov)

Sad Panda In China Gets Her Own Play Area

Apr 16, 2014 (Morning Edition) — Si Jia got depressed after her only companion moved to another zoo. The staff at the Yunnan Safari Park in southwest China built her a swing and parallel bars. She may get a real friend soon.

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Rescuers head toward the ferry Sewol off the southern coast of South Korea on Wednesday. It sank while on a trip to a resort island. Several hundred people, most of them high school students and teachers, are missing. (EPA/Landov)

News Out Of Ukraine Raises More Questions Than Answers

Apr 16, 2014 (Morning Edition) — There are reports Wednesday morning of several Ukrainian tanks on the move in some eastern cities -- flying Russian flags.

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