Alaska Air’s new electronic luggage tags could speed up airport check-ins

The airline says it will be the first to issue reusable, electronic tags to replace paper print-outs.
Alaska Airlines electronic tag

Alaska Airlines' electronic tag. Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines is rolling out a new way to check-in your luggage with electronic bag tags, set to undergo a pilot program later this year. Using electronic tags is similar to checking-in virtually and getting a mobile boarding pass rather than having to print one out at the airport, except this requires a physical item to display the tag information. The airline said this tech upgrade to the typical label-printing process is expected to reduce the time a customer typically spends dropping off luggage by almost 40 percent in an announcement posted Tuesday. 

“This technology allows our guests to tag their own bags in just seconds and makes the entire check-in process almost all off-airport,” explained Charu Jain, senior vice president of merchandising and innovation at Alaska, on the airline website

It works like this: passengers in the pilot group will be given their own reusable electronic tags with digital screens, which they can activate in the 24-hours leading up to their flight through Alaska’s mobile app. Passengers would first check-in for their flight on the app, and then touch the phone used in that process to the electronic bag tag, which uses an antenna and near-field communication to read and display the information transmitted from the phone. GeekWire reports that having this antenna could be useful in airports with automated baggage sorting systems.

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The screen will resemble a typical printed tag, with barcode and airport information. Then, with their boarding pass and tagged bag ready, passengers can simply show their boarding pass and ID to an airline agent and drop off their pre-checked and tagged bag, potentially cutting down the time spent on airport lobby lines. Alaska has been testing versions of this technology since 2015.

While the feature might seem particularly appealing for travelers hoping to avoid some of the significant delays and lost luggage issues that have been plaguing airports so far this summer, most fliers will have to wait until next year to try the tags out for themselves. Alaska Airlines says the feature will first be offered to 2,500 frequent fliers, and TechCrunch adds that those travelers will be selected from a pool of Mileage Plan elites who regularly utilize the San Jose International Airport in California. 

Early next year, other Mileage Plan members will be given the option to purchase the devices, which GeekWire says will cost around $70. A senior software engineer on the project told TechCrunch the tags are designed to “last a lifetime,” made of plastic that has been put through stress tests including being run over by airport machinery ranging from luggage cards to jet bridge wheels.