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I had recently flown from an EU country (Italy) to a non-EU one (Albania) and I noticed that my checked baggage had green bands on the tags. However, I thought that they were only used in intra-EU flights, so why was I given a green baggage tag when flying to a non-EU destination? What is the point of these green baggage tags? Do they serve a specific purpose?

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It's indeed kind of pointless if you are leaving the EU… but so would be devising a system to tag luggage according to their destination, complete with two types of labels, a system to handle layovers, etc. Basically, green tags are not for travel withing the EU or anything like that, it's for luggage originating in the EU.

That way everything is tagged very easily, merely by virtue of being checked in at an EU airport and it's sure to be correctly tagged whenever you travel within the EU. You don't need to designate some check-in desks for intra-EU travel, interface with existing systems, train employees to handle EU luggage differently or add any logic or software at all. You put paper with a green stripe in the printer and you're done with it. That's simple and efficient and good enough for its purpose.

Incidentally, you can easily have non-green-tagged luggage on an intra-EU flight, for example if that flight is the last leg following an intercontinental flight. It does not really matter whether you go through several EU and non-EU airports, take a domestic flight, an intra-EU flight, or even transit outside the EU between two EU airports; your bag will have the right tags regardless.

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This largely covers it. Notably, all flights from the EU have their baggage tags printed with a green-edged label.

The point of them is explained clearly there:

In large airports, it is not always possible to separate travellers flows according to the point of departure of their travel, whether they started their journey in an EU or in a non-EU airport. It can therefore happen that travellers of both categories mix in airports common areas. However, luggage which come from a non-EU airport can be subject to controls while luggage registered in an EU airport do not (note 2).

Consequently, in order to allow for a quick and effective identification of luggage according to the airport where they were checked in, and, thereby, to optimise controls on luggage originating in a third country while ensuring freedom of movement of the other luggage, the latter receive a green-edged label the model of which is different from those used elsewhere than in the EU.

The "controls on luggage" primarily mean customs. The tags both provide some means to filter what bags customs can search at random, along with some means of checking only those entitled to use the blue "arrivals from the EU" channel at customs are.

So, they're essentially meaningless if your destination is outside the EU; however, if you have a layover outside the EU and then return to it (e.g., Paris–Zürich–Rome) without having access to your baggage then they do have meaning despite having left the EU in transit.

  • As an aside, can someone actually find the legal statement about baggage tags in the EU? I'm seeing contradictory terms whether purely domestic (within the member state) journeys are obliged to have green-tags or not. – gsnedders Dec 11 '16 at 23:14
  • Are you saying that if I flew from an EU point of departure (e.g. Frankfurt) and flew for example to the U.S., my bag tags would be green? That seems so pointless... – user49558 Dec 11 '16 at 23:15
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    @user49558 Yes. It's not pointless because it means they have one strip of paper to print the baggage tags on, and that is pre-printed with the green strips down the side. Otherwise, they'd need two different sets of paper, one with the green strips and one without with all the extra complexity of managing that. (You'd have the cost of needing two reels presumably in two printers, need to make sure all intra-EU journeys get the right one… and the cost of pre-printing it is probably cheap compared with the cost of the sticky backing.) – gsnedders Dec 11 '16 at 23:17
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    In practical terms, baggage-tag printers at EU airports are stocked with green-edged tags only -- even if they were legally allowed to use plain tags for purely-domestic passengers, it would just be an additional expense for no gain to do so. – Henning Makholm Dec 11 '16 at 23:19
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    Yep at that point it simply doesn't matter. In your example, the US officials simply don't care (or know) about the green-edged tags and just do their thing no matter what color is on the tags. – Zach Lipton Dec 11 '16 at 23:43

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