I have observed that baggage tags for commercial carriers have a 10 digit code on the bottom which appears to be a part of a universal baggage handling argot, see this picture...

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The number appears to be segmented. I suspect the first digits represent the carrier, unknown part in the middle, and the last digit, in this case "8", appears to be a type of enumeration about the bag's priority. But this is guess.

When I fly commercial and check baggage, I try to snap a photo of the tag before the agent places it on the belt. That's for the unlikely case that the bag is lost AND my copy of the luggage tag is also lost (which is more likely). I upload the photo to Dropbox.

Question: Can anyone clarify how this 10 digit code is segmented and what information it contains? Is the knowledge somehow useful to a traveller? I am particularly interested in the final digit.

  • Out of curiosity, have you had a last digit that has been more common than others?
    – Berwyn
    Jun 6 '16 at 6:06
  • I have not noticed one. Despite the excellent answer below, I'm still thinking they slip a code into that number. But I have to concede that there's a possibility they do not.
    – Gayot Fow
    Jun 6 '16 at 7:21
  • I suppose it's possible that the individual airline has an indicator within its own part of the bag number. However, I'd guess it's more likely that they just do a database lookup during scanning to determine luggage priority, if any.
    – Berwyn
    Jun 6 '16 at 7:25
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    Good idea taking a photo of the tag... I'm always paranoid about losing the bit they stick on my passport (when taking it out of and putting back into my pocket so many times during airport changes etc.) and they did lose my bag last time I flew!
    – Lyall
    Jun 6 '16 at 11:53
  • "When I fly commercial and check baggage, I try to snap a photo of the tag before the agent places it on the belt. That's for the unlikely case that the bag is lost AND my copy of the luggage tag is also lost (which is more likely). I upload the photo to Dropbox." Did they not give you a receipt? They should give you a receipt. Usually it gets stuck to the back of your passport. Jun 6 '16 at 14:42

That's the IATA 10 digit "license plate" code. A summary can be found in this document, which gives this example:

The baggage license plate is a unique 10 digit number. The only correct format of baggage tag number should be e.g. 7512123456 rather than RJ123456.

In this example: “7” is the “leading digit” + "512" is the 3-digit airline code + "123456" is the 6-digit bag number.

As such the last digit is not special in any way.

A list of three digit airline codes may be found on the IATA's website. In your example, 176 belongs to Emirates.

The Wikipedia article for Bag tag also contains some helpful information. Note that the previous system used a two or three character airline code followed by a six digit bag number, rather than the 10 digit system now adopted. Per that article, the leading digit follows this scheme:

0 for interline or online tags, 1 for fallback tags (pre-printed or demand-printed tags only for use by the local baggage handling system if it cannot receive BSMs from a carrier's departure control system due to a fault in the latter or in communication between it and the baggage handling system, as defined in IATA Recommended Practice 1740b) and 2 for Rush tags. The purpose of numbers in the range 3 to 9 as the first digit of the 10-digit license plate is undefined by IATA but can be used by each carrier for its specific needs (commonly used as a million indicator for the normal 6-digit tag number)

The full text of Resolution 751, which defines this format, is excerpted here. Complete details on everything related to the IATA baggage standards, along with far more material about interline procedures, should be found in the IATA Passenger Services Conference Resolutions Manual (PSCRM), which will cost you between $604.80, or $1737.75 for the "combo" package.

  • 11
    They didn't include a check-digit? *facepalm* Jun 6 '16 at 8:53
  • 5
    @DavidRicherby I assume there's probably a check digit built into the barcode, which is what would normally be used. A check digit in the number would be nice, but since manual entry is already a failure mode, it could be considered unnecessary. Jun 6 '16 at 9:00
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    @DavidRicherby Also, keep in mind that these tags are for very short term use only, measured in hours. Long term degradation isn't an issue, and the additional extra digit might actually cause more mistakes than it catches. These are backups to existing carrier tags, and thus are already redundant information.
    – Adam Davis
    Jun 6 '16 at 14:04
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    @AdamDavis It doesn't matter how long they live for: the point of the check-digit is to detect keying mistakes if anyone ever has to manually type the number (and allowing people to manually type the number is surely the only reason it's there at all). And the kind of error it causes is the computer saying "beep! invalid code", whereas nobody noticing that the wrong number was typed in is the sort of thing that could cause actual problems. Jun 6 '16 at 14:16
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    @DavidRicherby I understand the purpose and reasons for a check digit. I was suggesting that people only key them in when the scanner doesn't read the code, and if they are short lived the barcode is much more likely to be computer readable. Therefore the short lifetime of the tag reduces the likelihood of manual keying sufficiently that a check digit in the human readable version isn't as useful as other uses for barcodes. At that point it's a balancing act between 10 digits with no check, or 11 digits with a poor check. Longer numbers result in more errors, so perhaps the scale tips.
    – Adam Davis
    Jun 6 '16 at 14:22
  • The first number "0" is usually the identifier for the type of checked bag (normal checked bag, gate checked, mobility device, rush bag,etc). So the first number could change, but not the next 3.

  • Then you have 176 which is the airline identifier... in this case 176 is Emirate Sky Cargo

  • Then the last 6 digits are allocated to the passenger, and used to trace bags if they get lost, along with the 2 letter airline code that precedes it.

  • 1
    Please add a source for your answer.
    – JJJ
    May 18 '19 at 4:36
  • 3
    This doesn't add anything to the previous answer...?
    – chx
    May 18 '19 at 4:39

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