Alaska Airlines Rolling Out Electronic Bag Tags

Alaska Airlines Rolling Out Electronic Bag Tags

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Alaska Airlines has formally started rolling out electronic bag tags, intended to make the process of checking a bag easier. While I think this is a cool(ish) concept, trying to make customers pay for it seems like a major hurdle to this being adapted on a widespread basis.

How Alaska’s DIY electronic bag tags work

Alaska Airlines has announced that it has become the first airline in the United States to launch electronic bag tags. Plans for this were first announced earlier this year, but we’re finally now seeing this implemented. Interestingly the airline trialed (and abandoned) the concept back in 2016, though it seems that Alaska is giving it another go.

The intent is that electronic bag tags allow those with checking bags to skip the step of printing traditional bag tags at the airport. Instead passengers will be able to “load” their bag tag up to 24 hours before departure from anywhere.

How is that possible? Customers will be given a permanent electronic bag tag, measuring three inches by five inches. By touching the phone used for check-in to the electronic bag tag, the information will be transmitted from the phone. The electronic bag tag screen will then display the passenger’s flight information.

Then when the passenger arrives at the airport, they can go straight to the bag drop, and just present their boarding pass and ID. Alaska claims that this program will reduce the time spent dropping off checked luggage by nearly 40%.

Alaska is partnering with Dutch company BAGTAG on this program, as these devices are also being used in other parts of the world. It’s claimed that the devices have durable screens that have been tested to withstand being run over by a luggage cart.

Note that these electronic bag tags don’t allow baggage tracking, so these wouldn’t replace an AirTag for those purposes. It sure would be cool if these devices had trackers, so you always know where your bag is. It might also make the cost of these devices easier to stomach.

Below is a video showing the process of checking a bag with this electronic tag.

Alaska Airlines’ SVP of Merchandising and Innovation, Charu Jain, describes this as saving passengers time and giving Alaska Airlines employees more time to spend with other people:

“This technology allows our guests to tag their own bags in just seconds and makes the entire check-in process almost all off-airport.”

“Not only will our electronic bag tags allow our guests to quickly drop-off their luggage after they arrive at the airport, the devices will also give our employees the opportunity to spend more one-on-one time with guests who ask for assistance and reduce lines at our lobbies.”

Alaska Airlines is rolling out electronic bag tags

When will Alaska’s electronic bag tags roll out?

Unfortunately Alaska Airlines customers won’t just be able to opt-in and get these electronic bag tags for free. So what’s the plan here?

  • The first phase has just kicked off, as 2,500 Alaska Mileage Plan elite members are being sent these tags; these are all people who checked at least one bag within the past 12 months, and opted into the trial
  • During the second phase in early 2023, Alaska Mileage Plan members will be given the option to purchase these, for around $70 each

$70 seems like a really steep price to pay for the privilege of having less interaction with Alaska Airlines employees. That’s especially true when you consider that you need one tag per bag, so if you were checking multiple bags, you’d have to buy more than one of these.

I would assume that these tags would be much cheaper if produced on a larger scale, but I imagine the demand just isn’t there yet. But also, of course the demand isn’t there, because you can’t expect most airline customers to pay $70 for an electronic bag tag, and that’s also not a cost airlines are willing to cover on a large scale.

It’s one thing if all airlines accepted these electronic bag tags, but to buy them specifically for travel on one airline is quite an ask.

Select elite members are trialing these tags first

Bottom line

Alaska Airlines is (again) rolling out electronic bag tags. The first phase of this is starting right now, with 2,500 Mileage Plan members being sent these tags. These tags will allow eligible travelers to skip the step of printing luggage tags, instead allowing them to load those tags electronically onto a device.

This is a cool innovation, no doubt, I just think the cost is going to prevent this from being too popular in the long run, once this is extended beyond the trial.

What do you make of these electronics bag tags? Would you pay for one?

Conversations (21)
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  1. Lee Guest

    I'm in the test program now. I tried the e-tag on both legs of a recent trip. Some thoughts:
    I think the tag they sent me was defective. I could see the flight info on the face of it but not very well. And none of the agents who tried to scan it were successful. They ended up printing paper tags anyway. Not a good start.
    Even if it had worked I have...

    I'm in the test program now. I tried the e-tag on both legs of a recent trip. Some thoughts:
    I think the tag they sent me was defective. I could see the flight info on the face of it but not very well. And none of the agents who tried to scan it were successful. They ended up printing paper tags anyway. Not a good start.
    Even if it had worked I have to wonder where it could have saved me any time. If I'm going to check a bag I go through the elite line. There's generally a short wait and the agent prints the paper tag saving me that tedious process. (And pushing the labor of self-print onto passengers just irks me on principle.) I'd guess the target market for these e-tags is elite flyers and I'd presume most of them also go through the elite line. So what's the difference between elite line to have them print paper and elite line to have them scan an e-tag? A fraction of a minute? Will there ever be a no-line process where I can simply drop the bag on my way through the terminal? And if I had done that on this trip what would have become of my bag with an unreadable e-tag?
    And yes, the large plastic device is a bit of a nuisance. I put mine on the primary bag handle where it showed in the video and that turned out to be uncomfortable. And the zip-tie type attachment was really tough to remove. For good reason I suppose.

  2. Marshalg New Member

    Now I know why they eliminated the self bag tags they were trying to make work for a long time. They worked, but were a hassle and really didn't save anyone any time. Like others, it is a solution looking for a problem and will certainly be another failure.
    Marshall

  3. Mi Guest

    The early trial was abandoned in 2016 because of the recent (at the time) announcement about the VX merger. Internally everything shifted towards getting that done quickly.

    Yes its $70, but I expect to see discounts, and price testing after the initial phase of the trial. People pay $$ for AirTags, plus in the tech Corridor of the West Coast it could be seen as a status thing.

    BagTag, the provider also has tags...

    The early trial was abandoned in 2016 because of the recent (at the time) announcement about the VX merger. Internally everything shifted towards getting that done quickly.

    Yes its $70, but I expect to see discounts, and price testing after the initial phase of the trial. People pay $$ for AirTags, plus in the tech Corridor of the West Coast it could be seen as a status thing.

    BagTag, the provider also has tags with Lufthansa, and some other oneWorld airlines, so potentially a network effect could happen.

    Finally, yes, it eliminates one step...but look forward and see that biometrics are moving from INTL/GOES to TSA checkpoints. I'd argue that it may also be moving forward to Check-In.

    At SJC Alaska is also trialing Self-Bag Drop. Imagine some time in the future the creation of a digital fast class, where you just show up, drop your bags and go. No line for check-In to drop your bags.

    Look ahead a little, it can't all be done at once.

  4. JK-SFO Guest

    Thanks for the post! I watched the video. It looks like it would be very challenging to pick up the bag using its handle with the electronic tag attached.

  5. iamhere Guest

    What's to stop people from having an overweight bag or a bag that otherwise would be charged a fee. I could see people spending the $70 especially if it is an Alaska charge so a credit card airline fee reimbursement would pay for it and then print the tags themselves following which avoid other fees. Seems cheap for that considering bag fees could be more than $70 easily. A major issue I think is that these are plastic so it could be ruined easily.

    1. Mi Guest

      They are actually quite tough. I still have an original one from 2016 and it still works. It's been through a lot.

      As far as overweight bags go, you still need to drop it with an agent, or if you are at SJC a Self-Bag Drop machine. This should also make it easier to pay, because you could just pay with your phone when you activate it.

  6. sanam_99 New Member

    Great news for the residents of United States to launch electronic bag tags. However the Concept is old. This is good news for All American. Visit W3Schools.com!

  7. Tony Guest

    Qantas does this for their elites. Its nothing new and clearly they see a benefit. Paper tags can rip or get misread.

  8. Steve Guest

    I thought the had the perfect solution where you printed your luggage tag (essentially free) and put it into a plastic holder (nearly free). Low cost, high reliability (the paper doesn't fail), uses existing infrastructure (most people have printers), rugged and easily maintained (throw away the holder when it becomes damaged).

    The problem according to Alaska is people didn't like printing their own baggage tags. I'm not clear how this is going to fix that....

    I thought the had the perfect solution where you printed your luggage tag (essentially free) and put it into a plastic holder (nearly free). Low cost, high reliability (the paper doesn't fail), uses existing infrastructure (most people have printers), rugged and easily maintained (throw away the holder when it becomes damaged).

    The problem according to Alaska is people didn't like printing their own baggage tags. I'm not clear how this is going to fix that. Was the issue really that people weren't willing to fold the tag and put it into the holder and sending it (somehow) electronically is going to make it so much easier everyone will want to do it now? I'm dubious.

    Perhaps they could cut their costs for effectively by giving passengers a reason to print their baggage tags at the airport without needing an agent. They have already investing in the equipment so the question is why aren't people using it or if they are then what problem is this solving?

  9. Volleyball New Member

    Why does the tag need to be electronic? Could you be given a permanent QR code/barcode that is tied to your profile, like venmo does, that you can scan with your phones camera to link to each reservation?

    1. Steve Guest

      Because the tag reading machines which are deployed across airlines and airports aren't set up to do this. It's a great idea not the lease of which that it would allow much easier rerouting of bags but would require all the airlines to agree followed by an entire remake of the tens of thousands of machines

  10. Roy the Recycler Guest

    Is there any reason these can’t be collected upon arrival for re-use?

  11. JB Guest

    I think it would have been better for the company making these to go to airlines and sell them the idea to accept these as it benefits the airline with less staff needed at airports. Maybe if they could get contracts with AA, UA, and DL, they could sell them in the U.S. to a wider audience and perhaps partner with the airlines so they promote them as well.

    Maybe start off with an airline...

    I think it would have been better for the company making these to go to airlines and sell them the idea to accept these as it benefits the airline with less staff needed at airports. Maybe if they could get contracts with AA, UA, and DL, they could sell them in the U.S. to a wider audience and perhaps partner with the airlines so they promote them as well.

    Maybe start off with an airline in each region to further their reach and to have them available in a bigger market so it actually benefits the airline. Like start off promoting with AA, BA, QR, Cathay, Qantas, JAL, etc., then go to other airlines in the same region. Or maybe start of partnering with an alliance.
    Selling 1,000 won't benefit AS, so they would need many sold, and then cost savings would come in at hubs when as many staff are not needed. Right now it will only benefit the consumer slightly, and has more of a cool factor than anything else.

    1. Mi Guest

      Maybe that's the plan. BagTag, the company has worked with a few airlines in Europe, Lufthansa and Swiss Air. I also believe Qatar airways is supporting the has well (oneWorld). The tags are based on an IATA standard, so your thoughts might soon become a reality.

  12. Harry Guest

    wave a wand and say "ridiculouso!" This benefits Alaska. period. And they want us to pay for it. I've been using strictly carryons and services like Luggage Forward. Hate this continuous onslaught of airline "shrinkflation."

  13. yepnope Guest

    I still see old rimowa bags that had that electronic tag built into it. I’m assuming that failed so why is Alaska trying to revive it lol. At least a suitcase with the tag built in kind of made some sense. This alaska bag tag looks terrible.

  14. Steve Diamond

    Creating a new potential issue for a problem that never actually existed. what a waste.

  15. globetrotter Guest

    I used to fly AS exclusively pre-pandemic because their air tickets were competitive. In fact, I took the last AS flight three days before US-Canadian border was closed and CA was shut down in March 2020. Now, I fly UA because AS flights are much higher and less convenient for me. AS keeps emailing me an invite to apply for their credit card but I balk for now as I no longer fly with them....

    I used to fly AS exclusively pre-pandemic because their air tickets were competitive. In fact, I took the last AS flight three days before US-Canadian border was closed and CA was shut down in March 2020. Now, I fly UA because AS flights are much higher and less convenient for me. AS keeps emailing me an invite to apply for their credit card but I balk for now as I no longer fly with them. Bigger does not mean better. But being a small airline has its challenges of being gobbled up by a mega-airline.

  16. David Klepser Guest

    Will these tags also work for international flights ? Like Seattle to Mexico? Or will a person still be required to go to counter for tag ?

  17. DCAWABN Guest

    So this saves what? The physical act of printing out the tag and putting it on the bag? If you still have to show your ID and boarding pass to an AS employee and answer questions about flammable materials and "has your bag been out of your control/sight", then how is this materially different from the check-in/bag-tagging kiosks already available? Am I missing something?

    1. Mi Guest

      I posted this on another comment.

      Finally, yes, it eliminates one step...but look forward and see that biometrics are moving from INTL/GOES to TSA checkpoints. I'd argue that it may also be moving forward to Check-In.

      At SJC Alaska is also trialing Self-Bag Drop. Imagine some time in the future the creation of a digital fast class, where you just show up, drop your bags and go. No line for check-In to drop your bags.

      ...

      I posted this on another comment.

      Finally, yes, it eliminates one step...but look forward and see that biometrics are moving from INTL/GOES to TSA checkpoints. I'd argue that it may also be moving forward to Check-In.

      At SJC Alaska is also trialing Self-Bag Drop. Imagine some time in the future the creation of a digital fast class, where you just show up, drop your bags and go. No line for check-In to drop your bags.

      Look ahead a little, it can't all be done at once.

Featured Comments Most helpful comments ( as chosen by the OMAAT community ).

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Steve Diamond

Creating a new potential issue for a problem that never actually existed. what a waste.

4
DCAWABN Guest

So this saves what? The physical act of printing out the tag and putting it on the bag? If you still have to show your ID and boarding pass to an AS employee and answer questions about flammable materials and "has your bag been out of your control/sight", then how is this materially different from the check-in/bag-tagging kiosks already available? Am I missing something?

2
Harry Guest

wave a wand and say "ridiculouso!" This benefits Alaska. period. And they want us to pay for it. I've been using strictly carryons and services like Luggage Forward. Hate this continuous onslaught of airline "shrinkflation."

1
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