Skift Take

Alaska Airlines is not the biggest airline in the U.S., but it appears that it’s aiming to be one of the most modern, or at least as the customer sees it.

The first airline to introduce check-in kiosks at the airport will be the first to get rid of them.

Alaska Airlines is removing the kiosks this year from its main airports, including Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Anchorage. It’s part of a plan announced Tuesday to spend $2.5 billion over three years on to upgrade passenger technology in airport lobbies.

The plan is to transition to a fully self-service experience for check-in and baggage drop-off, with the goal of getting passengers through a lobby and to the security line in five minutes or less, the company said. 

“As we thought about how to provide the most caring experience for our guests, it was clear the lobby was a pain point,” said Charu Jain, Alaska Airlines senior vice president of innovation and merchandising, in a statement. “We realized the majority of our guests were doing most of the kiosk actions on their own phones and we could reduce the congestion in our airports. Alaska was the first airline to introduce kiosks more than 20 years ago, and we’ll be the first airline to remove them.”

The check-in kiosks will be replaced with iPad stations — essentially an iPad and credit card reader on a stand — where the passenger can pay for a checked bag and print the paper bag tag. The airline is continuing to encourage passengers to check in online and obtain a boarding pass before arriving at the airport. Most of Alaska’s airports will transition to the new bag tag stations by the end of 2023.

The next step involves adding self-service stations, beginning in spring 2024, where the passengers can drop off their bags. The machine will scan the passenger’s face, identification, and bags before the passenger places the bag on a conveyor belt to be loaded onto the aircraft. 

The airline said it will still have customer service associates in the airports in case they are needed.

Alaska is continuing to experiment with an electronic bag tag, as well, as the first U.S. customer of Amsterdam-based startup Bagtag since 2022. Through that program, travelers can purchase the reusable electronic tag and attach it at home, using their phone to connect it with the airline’s baggage system. 

Alaska emailed Skfit a statement in late January about the progress of that project:

“The Electronic Bag Tag (EBT) program kicked off with a successful launch for 2500 elite flyers, and we’ve been collecting feedback from those guests as they use the technology through their travel journeys. We’re compiling all of the comments and making some adjustments to the EBT before rolling it out to all guests. Early feedback illustrates that our guests love the convenience of tagging their bag at home and it’s saving them time in the lobby.”

The air travel baggage system is not the only area Alaska is looking to modernize. The company launched Alaska Star Ventures in late 2021, through which it’s investing in startups aiming to modernize the transportation industry.


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Tags: airline innovation, airport technology, airports, alaska airlines, baggage, baggage handling, biometrics, check-ins, checked bags, kiosks, travel tech, travel technology

Photo credit: Pictured is a rendering of a future Alaska Airlines bag tag station. Source: Alaska Airlines Alaska Airlines / Alaska Airlines

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