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Transportation United Kingdom Technology

British Airways Set To Bring Luggage Tags Into the 21st Century 123

Posted by Soulskill
from the your-bags-will-automatically-tweet-as-they're-getting-lost dept.
Zothecula writes "Most people would probably agree that air travel still has plenty of room for improvement, particularly when it comes to actually checking in and getting on the plane. For its part, British Airways is now taking steps to speed up the whole process on its end and is even testing a digital alternative to the traditional paper luggage tag. The airline recently produced an electronic luggage tag that travelers can update themselves with a smartphone and re-use over and over."
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British Airways Set To Bring Luggage Tags Into the 21st Century

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  • Sure, join us (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 05, 2013 @02:01AM (#44192597)

    Welcome to the 21st century...Qantas and a number of other airlines have already been doing this for some time, where is the news?

    • by cbope (130292)

      I believe the news is this will replace paper baggage tags for all fliers, unlike the current Qantas system which is only for frequent fliers. BIG difference.

    • Well there was the Denver Airport,

      "which was an unmitigated failure. An airport opening originally scheduled for October 31, 1993, with a single system
      for all three concourses turned into a February 28, 1995, opening with separate systems for each concourse, with varying degrees of automation.

      The automated baggage system never worked as designed, and in August 2005 it became public knowledge that
      United would abandon the system, a decision that would save them $1 million per month in maintenance costs,"
      http: [wikipedia.org]

      • by cbope (130292)

        It certainly was a failure at the time, but let's put it in perspective. Windows 3.1/3.11 was the mainstream OS at that time. I believe technology has improved just a tiny fraction since then...

        • It sounds like they just hired the wrong group to do/design it. UPS, FedEx and the USPS have systems that track and sort hundreds of thousands if not millions of packages a day. Amazon and any large pick and pull warehouse have similar systems that do to a large number of automated pick and pull operations.

        • It certainly was a failure at the time, but let's put it in perspective. Windows 3.1/3.11 was the mainstream OS at that time. I believe technology has improved just a tiny fraction since then...

          Some more perspective...

          The leading Track Geometry Measurement System developed originally by a South Carolina Company called E.H. Reeves & Associates (later ImageMap Inc, and now MerMec Inc) is based on DOS. Its 2009 era rewrite is based on Linux. Both are preferred to (as of 2007) the parent company's (MerMec SpA) products, including a Windows-based version.

          Just saying that just because the technology has "changed" does not mean it has necessarily "improved". Win3.11 was pretty good. DOS enabled

    • by nospam007 (722110) * on Friday July 05, 2013 @05:49AM (#44193289)

      "Welcome to the 21st century...Qantas and a number of other airlines have already been doing this for some time, where is the news?"

      With this one, you can see yourself on your smartphone that your luggage is in Guam instead of where you are.

  • ... about 2 seconds.
  • Ripe for problems.
    • Re:Stolen tags (Score:5, Interesting)

      by TWX (665546) on Friday July 05, 2013 @02:10AM (#44192627)
      I'm a lot more worried about forged tags or rewriting tags to send bags other places.

      One could steal luggage or could possibly redirect bags containing contraband, while the bag is already in-circulation and away from the passenger or courier, if there's a way to access the luggage tag via smartphone without having to physically touch or see the tag. The phone could be in the bag itself and could reprogram the tag remotely.

      I simply do not trust an electronic system to be any more foolproof than a paper system, given the sheer number of infrastructure-grade compromised electronic systems. Being that, I don't see a reason to spend an inordinate amount of money on a new system that won't deliver any better results.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        It's not as if paper tags are difficult to remove or replace. The advantage I see of a reusable system is that it makes it possible to develop a global RFID-based system (based on the current RFID solutions still being too expensive for use as disposable luggage tags). Being able to automatically read the identifiers on all bags within a few meters means automatically tracking luggage becomes much, much faster and thus practical to do at more points (e.g., the plane could know that a particular bag for XY

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Some airlines/airports are already using RFIDs embedded into the paper tag, and have been for over 5 years.

      • by AK Marc (707885)
        The current system is easily hacked. Switching tags can be done along the way by lots of people. Print your own at home to send your baggage to somewhere else. Much like electronic voting, it's something the Luddites don't trust, but would be hard to do worse than the current system without deliberately trying, and unlike voting, the airline has no incentive to make it work poorly.
        • by Anonymous Coward

          Switching tags can be done along the way by lots of people.

          It only ever could be done by staff of the airport (or someone who manages to get into the staff-only areas some other way), at least at all airports that I know. The tag gets attached by the service person when you give up your luggage and then you'll not have access to your luggage again until you get it back at your destination airport.

          Print your own at home to send your baggage to somewhere else.

          Printing your own at home would help you nothing,

          • by AK Marc (707885)

            It only ever could be done by staff of the airport (or someone who manages to get into the staff-only areas some other way), at least at all airports that I know. The tag gets attached by the service person when you give up your luggage and then you'll not have access to your luggage again until you get it back at your destination airport.

            I've been to more than one where if you are express checked in, you are the one that puts your luggage on the belt, and nobody checks that your luggage and ticket are for the same place.

            Printing your own at home would help you nothing, because the first step they do is always to remove any tags which are already there (usually from the previous flight), and afterwards you have no chance to attach another one because you don't have access to the baggage any more.

            How often do you fly where you print your own boarding pass at home? Express check-in with automated baggage handling? Never? Sounds that way.

            • by Anonymous Coward

              How often do you fly where you print your own boarding pass at home?

              I virtually always print my boarding pass at home.

              Express check-in with automated baggage handling?

              Express check in: Always.
              Automated baggage handling (as in, no person sitting there, checking my ticket (and sometimes my ID), and putting a tag on the suitcase): Not available at any airport I ever checked in.

          • by nabsltd (1313397)

            It only ever could be done by staff of the airport (or someone who manages to get into the staff-only areas some other way), at least at all airports that I know. The tag gets attached by the service person when you give up your luggage and then you'll not have access to your luggage again until you get it back at your destination airport.

            At the Reno, NV, airport when flying Southwest, they attach the tag, but only sometimes will they take the bag. For any item that is moderately heavy (even if well within the weight limits), the passenger must carry the bag to a different location where a "professional" (i.e., strong but not really bright) will lift the bag onto the belt. It sounds like a joke, but that's the system.

            So, if the check in desk is busy at all, the "professional" doesn't know if you came from the desk, straight in from outside

      • by thegarbz (1787294)

        I simply do not trust an electronic system to be any more foolproof than a paper system, given the sheer number of infrastructure-grade compromised electronic systems. Being that, I don't see a reason to spend an inordinate amount of money on a new system that won't deliver any better results.

        You don't need to trust it to be more foolproof. The old system isn't foolproof either. It fails in so many ways that organised drug cartels already use carry on baggage to smuggle contraband, that bags end up on completely wrong planes, or best of all no one has a clue where your bag ended up.

        The system doesn't need to be secure or foolproof in anyway to be better than what we already have.

      • by sjames (1099)

        That was my thought as well. It could even be something as silly as a kid changing the destination of an entire cart's forth of luggage while playing with a smartphone in the airport.

        The tag will need to be at least as hard to change as it would be to cut one paper tag off and attach a forged tag. And to cover the bored kid angle, changing the tag needs to not look at all like fun.

    • by mjwx (966435) on Friday July 05, 2013 @02:30AM (#44192691)
      How will the tags be stolen when they're registered at check in? Another passenger couldn't use it to get another 20 KG on the plane at that point. They'd have to be stolen by handlers and this would be pretty stupid (although some are that stupid, they always get caught). Then what would they use it for? The person at the other end isn't going to pick up a bag that looks nothing like theirs.

      Electronic tags will solve a few problems and speed up baggage sorting.

      As long as you can still write your name on the outside (and better yet a LCD readout of your destination IATA code) it has all the same advantages of a paper system but can be machine sorted with near 100% accuracy.

      I mean, who steals paper luggage tags? no-one because they're practically useless to anyone but the owner.
      • They'd have to be stolen by handlers and this would be pretty stupid (although some are that stupid, they always get caught).

        Like sheep, it's the clever ones you have to look out for.

      • by Mashiki (184564)

        They'd have to be stolen by handlers and this would be pretty stupid (although some are that stupid, they always get caught).

        Sorry they don't always get caught, a few years ago there was an issue at Pearson(YYZ) where handlers were stealing luggage, and passing it though to people who were entering illegal onto the airport property. RCMP got involved, and a whole pile of other stuff. Eventually they were caught, but as best as they can figure it had been on-going for 5 years.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    how long until we're tagged by RFID tats, earrings, piercings, etc. just like baggage?

    LOOKS LIKE MEAT'S back on the menu, BOYS!

    • by sjames (1099)

      If NSA or marketing get their way, we'll all be sporting these [baltimoresun.com] soon enough.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 05, 2013 @02:13AM (#44192639)

    Qantas Frequent Fliers are given RFID tags for luggage tages. Results in very simply automatic loading onto conveyor belts where the tags are automatically picked up. The system results in extremely quick checkins - much quicker and smoother than any other airline I have ever flown. Its a brilliant system - however only works for domestic flights.

    • Yes the qantas system is RFID standard tag embedded in a rather durable plastic you can see it here :

      http://www.qantas.com.au/travel/airlines/q-bag-tag/global/en

      WHY don't all airlines embed a RFID chip on the barcoded label at least ?
      (frequent flyers can have a permanent tag such as Qantas )
      makes sense to me

      regards

      John Jones

    • by waimate (147056)

      Yep, only domestic, and moreover only when your entire journey involves major domestic airports. If you're flying from one capital to another and then onward to somewhere interesting, the Q-Tag she no work. Great for business travellers; not so good for people travelling with fishing rods or BCDs :(

      Doubtless the reach will spread in time, but in the years I've had them, I've been asked to take them off more often than I've been able to leave them on.

  • Missed opportunity (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    The millions they waste on redesigning a perfectly functional luggage tagging system could be used to feed millions of fatsos bacon. A sad waste of an opportunity.

  • The travellers update it themselves? Over the phone (i.e. remotely)? I can't imagine that works well.

    Yes, 99% will probably do it properly. But the remaining 1% will cause no end of trouble. Not to mention when someone hacks it and sends other people's bags around the world for the lulz.

    Why not having it programmed at the check-in? I see exactly zero advantage of doing it per phone. You still need to physically put the bag on the counter. So just have a system that programs the tag there.

    • by AK Marc (707885)

      The travellers update it themselves? Over the phone (i.e. remotely)?

      No, they can't. Maybe you should read TFA before making an ass of yourself. Then teach the rest of Slashdot to do the same.

      You can update your app with the baggage tag (and not remotely), but you can't update the tag with the app.

      • by rwise2112 (648849)

        You can update your app with the baggage tag (and not remotely), but you can't update the tag with the app.

        That's true if you RTFA, but the summary says the oposite:

        an electronic luggage tag that travelers can update themselves with a smartphone

        Slasdot editors on the ball again, I see!

        • by AK Marc (707885)

          an electronic luggage tag that travelers can update themselves with a smartphone

          Please parse that sentence with standard English rules (ignoring logic until after parsed). The noun prior to "themselves" is "travelers", not "tag" So, read it again, "An electronic tag that (travelers can update themselves with [via] a smartphone)" So the smartphone updates the traveler, not the tag.

          Strictly speaking, uselessly ambiguous. But, given an illogically strict parsing, does seem to be not completely wrong.

  • by aepervius (535155) on Friday July 05, 2013 @03:02AM (#44192779)
    I wonder how good does it plays with the bahamas spec (lost luggage) and SITA world tracer. Do they have maybe a middleware to translate it from one format to the other ? And what do you do with flights bound on other airlien which do not support it ? Since your bag tag follows you , then you would still need a pritned one by BA.
  • airline-specific?! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by macshit (157376) <.miles. .at. .gnu.org.> on Friday July 05, 2013 @03:51AM (#44192933) Homepage

    So BA is making an electronic luggage tag ... and as some have pointed out, Qantas already has them.

    Are they compatible? Will frequent flyers that use multiple airlines end up with 10 different electronic tags hanging off each piece of luggage?

    A universal standard tag would seem a good idea...

    • But there is a universal standard. It is called "Human Readable".
    • Dude, do you even vendor lock in? They won't want interoperability, they want return business!

      Have you learned nothing in the past decade about how corporations are out to fuck you over for a buck?!~
      • by jbengt (874751)

        Dude, do you even vendor lock in? They won't want interoperability, they want return business!

        Each airport has its' own baggage handling systems, and those are often shared among different airlines.

  • Great!! So I will now be able to monitor my bags being jetted off to some exotic destination in real-time, while I go in the opposite direction. Isn't technology wonderful?
  • Suggestion to BA (Score:4, Interesting)

    by GeekWithAKnife (2717871) on Friday July 05, 2013 @04:06AM (#44193005)

    This is not an attempt to "innovate" or get rid of those stupid stickers...this is just another way BA wants to collect customer data for free.

    Here's a real suggestion; I recently traveled with a Chinese airline and they had the unoriginal but highly effective idea of staggering passenger on-boarding.

    It does not get much simpler to speed things up, fill the back of the plane first by batches.

    It's amazing how 230 people can board in 15 minutes with luggage if 200 don't have to wait for one person blocking the rather narrow path.

    Seriously how simple and efficient can it get to defeat long standing queues? 'passenger seat numbers 41 - 50 now boarding', then 30 - 40 etc. is this some form of misunderstood genius?!

    Suggestion 2; make a security queue for people without handbags. this will cause more people to not bother with one just so they can get through faster.

    If BA want to hire me as a consultant I'll save them loads of money, they can pay me half the difference. -brought to you by basic copycat logic.
    • Just flown back from Stockholm where BA did exactly this.

      • Unless this is a recent development it makes one wonder why this has not happened across all flights.
        • Along with using both exits, the simple expedient of allowing passengers without large carryons (so everything fits under the seat) to board early has significantly reduced board times.

          My next suggestion: Anyone with 'carry on' weighing more than 20 kg gets to fly in the cargo hold - along with the carry on.

    • It's amazing how 230 people can board in 15 minutes with luggage if 200 don't have to wait for one person blocking the rather narrow path

      It's because, outside of North America, people don't try to carry one hundred pounds of crap into the passenger cabin. Stowing the steamer trunk, plus hockey bag, plus giant purse is what slows things down in boarding:

      http://www.chicagonow.com/dennis-byrnes-barbershop/files/2013/04/bags.jpg [chicagonow.com]

      Also add to the mix the general level of fitness in the USA - I fly fre

  • by isorox (205688) on Friday July 05, 2013 @04:23AM (#44193057) Homepage Journal

    The idea is to further move the burden of travel on to the passenger.

    I fly BA a bit, 56 flights with them this year. I check a bag on almost all of them. There's rarely a queue. The current baggage tags work wonders, there's a secondary sticker in case the main one gets ripped off, and it has your name on it which is handy when checking you've got the right one at the carrousel.

    I arrive at the airport, walk to the desk, drop my bag off, shove my passport over and smile. They give me a nice boarding card (which is often for a seat some rows in front of where I'd selected), put a label on my bag and send it off into the depths of the airport, issue me with a lounge invite (at some airports), and it gives me an opportunity to ask where the lounge is, as many airports I only visit once every couple of years.

    It's simple, quick and cheap. If my bag does for some reason arrive at Baku airport instead of Changi, I'm confident they'll be able to read the tag and return it whence it came.

    The company is hoping that upgrading to a high-tech version will shave a few minutes off the check-in process and get people to their flights faster.

    No, they want to reduce the number of staff since their disastrous merger with Iberia.

    Saving 2 minutes will make diddly squat when you've still got conformance at t-35, and close of bag drop at t-40.

    • by thegarbz (1787294)

      The idea is to further move the burden of travel on to the passenger.

      Which is something I am gladly burdened with. You may have a rose coloured view of how things used to be but in peak hour I am eternally grateful that I can check myself in, print my own boarding pass, and until recently had to spend time weighing and tagging my bags with printed pieces of paper.

      QANTAS already have this system. When I book online it is literally 2 clicks from an email to check-in. When I get to the terminal a scanner checks the barcode on my phone, I get a ticket, the bag goes on a conveyor

      • by isorox (205688)

        The idea is to further move the burden of travel on to the passenger.

        Which is something I am gladly burdened with. You may have a rose coloured view of how things used to be but in peak hour I am eternally grateful that I can check myself in, print my own boarding pass, and until recently had to spend time weighing and tagging my bags with printed pieces of paper.

        QANTAS already have this system. When I book online it is literally 2 clicks from an email to check-in. When I get to the terminal a scanner checks the barcode on my phone, I get a ticket, the bag goes on a conveyor with no further interaction required, and I walk to my gate.

        I am interested in how you think that saving 2 minutes will do nothing if you're already not happy with how long the process takes? Improvements aren't good enough? We need to make it perfect in one go?

        Rose tinted? It's been a long time since I saw a queue at check in. For economy of course, even once for business, but not for F checkin. Perhaps this will appeal to the occasional flyer that doesn't make oneworld emerald, but more the majority of us check in isn't an issue. Immigration in the states (over 2 hours last time I flew to IAD)

        Now the lack of decent fast track on boarding, or at security, is something where time can be saved. In fact my last flight there was no fast track at all!

        Saving 2 minutes

        • by thegarbz (1787294)

          Except pre-checked bags will allow you to do exactly that, arrive at the airport 2 minutes later because you don't need to go through the process of putting the bags on the machine, getting tags printed, and putting them on the bags, etc. The ability to self check-in is precisely why I now get to my local airport later than I used to. No need to battle a queue.

          Also I take it you are either a) not in a capital city b) don't travel between 7-9am and 4-6pm c) don't live in an airport in a city which has signif

    • by Alomex (148003)

      I fly BA a bit, 56 flights with them this year. I check a bag on almost all of them. There's rarely a queue.

      I call BS. Either you're flying out of a very small airport or checking in hours in advance. You see queues are almost inevitable when the system requires you to interact with an agent. Just do the math: 320 passengers in a transoceanic flight, let's optimistically assume we have 8 counters open, so that is a load of 40 people per counter. Passengers arrive overwhelmingly within a very short and narrow window of the required two hour check in time (+/- 10 minutes), and say it takes a minute to check in. Thi

      • by isorox (205688)

        I fly BA a bit, 56 flights with them this year. I check a bag on almost all of them. There's rarely a queue.

        I call BS. Either you're flying out of a very small airport or checking in hours in advance. You see queues are almost inevitable when the system requires you to interact with an agent. Just do the math: 320 passengers in a transoceanic flight, let's optimistically assume we have 8 counters open, so that is a load of 40 people per counter.

        The majority of passengers aren't allowed to use the F counter(s). If you're somewhere like Heathrow (hardly a "very small airport"), the walk from the train to the security to the lounge takes about 10 minutes. Adding a minute to drop off your bag at one of the many empty counters you pass doesn't really add anything to the total time spent in the airport, especially when you have to queue up for a "visa check" anyway at heathrow.

        I did once have a situation recently where I waited for 20 seconds for one pe

        • by Alomex (148003)

          You mean F counters as in "First Class"? Even then my experience (not with BA) is that there are lineups. Much shorter, usually only one or two passengers ahead of me.

          • by isorox (205688)

            You mean F counters as in "First Class"? Even then my experience (not with BA) is that there are lineups. Much shorter, usually only one or two passengers ahead of me.

            Yes. I guess I get to the airport at the right time. My last flight was sin-syd, and I arrived at t-120 as I had a meeting to phone in for at t-90. Not a ingle person at any of the counters, including the economy ones.

            At hong long there was a queue, I just walked to the front.

            Frequent flyers tend not to suffer the same way tht infrequent flyers that fly once a month or something do. t least at checkin. Queues at security, boarding, even at the lounge, are all far higher.

            Try recently removed the people check

    • by rwise2112 (648849)

      Saving 2 minutes will make diddly squat when you've still got conformance at t-35, and close of bag drop at t-40.

      There's that, but I wish they would design airports better. Why, when I'm transiting a counrty, do I need to exit the secure part of the airport and have to pass through security yet again to get to my next gate.

      • by isorox (205688)

        Saving 2 minutes will make diddly squat when you've still got conformance at t-35, and close of bag drop at t-40.

        There's that, but I wish they would design airports better. Why, when I'm transiting a counrty, do I need to exit the secure part of the airport and have to pass through security yet again to get to my next gate.

        Because the country the airport is in doesn't trust arrivin flight security.

        If you fly man-lhr-nbo, you don't pass through security at heathrow.

        Some terrible airports like AMS and SIN have security at the gate in any case. There's a reason I connect through t5 on ba, not ams on klm.

        I believe when flying domestically in the u.s you don't need to reclear security.

  • Something something about NSA keeping tabs on your luggage for you.

  • Anyone interested in putting together slashdot v2? You know, like it was before with taco, with real science/tech news, nerd humor, etc., where half the posts are not astroturfing?

    How would we go about it?

  • The luggage tracking systems of most airlines and airports are horrible. Luggage is only scanned when you check it, and when it gets onto the plane. Compare luggage tracking systems in airports to those used by UPS.. with UPS, I can enter a tracking code and find out EXACTLY where my package is at any time, down to the truck it is on. UPS itself can even see the GPS location of the truck. As anyone who has had their luggage lost can tell you (which happens FAR too often), the airlines know little more about

    • This is because bags are not scanned enough as they move around the airport.

      Of course they are. How do you think your bag winds up on the cart bound for your aircraft? You think they all just get dumped into a giant pile? The bar code is scanned as the bag moves and it's shunted around. There are lots of YouTube videos you can watch that show this.

      • by brunes69 (86786)

        That is not true. The bags ARE NOT scanned as they move around the airport. If you have ever lost your bag you will find this out. You will be sent to an international bag tracking database. All this database has stored in it is what airport the bag was last at. There is no record of where it was in the airport and no one has any information other than calling from airport to airport and doing manual searches in rooms for bags.

        It is a very archaic system compared to Fedex or UPS and It is plainly obvious th

    • by jbengt (874751)

      Luggage is only scanned when you check it, and when it gets onto the plane. Compare luggage tracking systems in airports to those used by UPS.

      I guarantee that it is scanned many more times than that. The fact that it didn't get onto the plane and they don't know where it is doesn't have to do with how many times they scanned it, but more to do with mistakes made by the scanners or handlers. FedEx, UPS, etc. have been known to lose track of packages we sent from our office, though I'll give you, it probab

  • The point of a luggage tag is severalfold.
    1) to tell baggage-handlers where the bag goes quickly and clearly. Current tags are actually a synthetic paper/film product and are incredibly durable. Will the electronic tag be immune to immersion and the sort of (incredibly) rough handling baggage suffers? What about power surges or lightning strikes? Would it be hilarious if a power surge on the plane meant that all the bags arrive at the destination with no codes at all?
    2) to identify the bag and owner at

    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      and tamper-resistant

      Well, that's your problem: The current system makes it harder to hide when your bag is being searched by some variety of law enforcement.

      • Well, considering that the current tags get wrapped around a handle, they do nothing to prevent your bag being searched.
  • im sure that while most customers will appreciate not having to fill out tags, the will decidedly not appreciate my set of ">;;,;DROP TABLE LUGGAGE" skis as they make their first and final trek through heathrow..
  • by big_e_1977 (2012512) on Friday July 05, 2013 @11:16AM (#44194855)

    $LOSE_LUGGAGE -- When this flag is set, the luggage sorting machinery will automatically send the luggage to the wrong aircraft, airport, or baggage claim.
    $MANGLE -- When this flag is set, the luggage sorting machinery is instructed to cut, gouge, or crush the luggage
    $HAS_VALUABLES -- When this flag is set, airport baggage handlers will be automatically be alerted that there is a high value item in the luggage for them to steal.
    $BOMBSCARE -- When this flag is set, the alarm clock and tube of toothpaste in the luggage will be interpreted by X Ray scanners as a bomb. Customer's luggage is to be detonated by the bomb squad.
    $ADD_BOGUS_BAGGAGE_FEE -- This flag is to be always set to true.

  • Screw checking baggage entirely. How did we ever get into this crazy system where passengers are separated from their luggage in the first place? Trains: carry on. Busses: carry on, or personally place in undercarriage storage.
    I have a crazy dream where aircraft are redesigned so passengers bring their luggage to the plane themselves, place in convenient (elevators or not) luggage storage, and remove luggage themselves. Yeah, I know: blahblah pressurized volume, windows, etc. It can be done.

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