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Date: November 04, 2010

Airlines may test do-it-yourself passenger bag tagging by                                                                                                                                                                           Roger Yu USA TODAY

Get ready to add another "customer service" to the growing list of do-it-yourself tasks at airports.

American Airlines and Air Canada say they're in talks with the Transportation Security Administration for a trial program in Boston likely later this year to let travelers tag their own checked bags for the first time in the U.S. Delta Air Lines says it's in talks with TSA for a trial at another airport.

While self-tagging -- or letting travelers print and affix destination tags on bags -- is common at foreign airports, only airline agents can currently do that in the U.S.

It's designed as a service to help speed customers through check-in.

The tags, which contain a bar code and the destination airport code, are scanned by TSA as bags are screened for explosives in non-public areas before being loaded onto aircraft.

The trial will let the airlines' customers at Boston Logan print tags from several customized self-service kiosks and place them directly on their luggage without agent supervision. Passengers will still have to see an agent in a dedicated line who will check the ID, scan the tag to validate it and place bags on the conveyor belt.

The airlines say self-tagging won't impose additional security risks because it doesn't change how bags are screened behind the scenes. TSA, which oversees air security, declined to comment on the trial.

The trial is a small but crucial step in an effort by the industry to ultimately automate bag-tagging. The hoped-for scenario -- advocated chiefly by the International Air Transport Association, a global airline trade group -- is to get customers to do the task without getting agents involved.

American Airlines and Air Canada say they're still working with TSA to determine the start date, but hope to introduce it before the busy year-end holidays. If successful, it may be introduced at other airports.

Worldwide, 32 airlines allow self-tagging, the IATA says. At several airports, including Amsterdam and Stockholm, passengers can place tags and drop their luggage at designated spots without seeing an agent, says association spokesman Steve Lott.

"We want to eliminate any hassles related to waiting in line," Lott says. "It removes some cost and hassle for airlines, too."

In recent years, airlines have stepped up automating the check-in process, programming kiosks to do more tasks, for instance, such as upgrading seats.

Automation has helped airlines reduce their workforce. The U.S. airline industry employed 564,000 as of August, down 8.4% from August 2005.

*from Airport Business Online