Alaska Airlines says it will be the first US-based airline to support electronic baggage tags, small programmable devices with e-paper displays designed to replace the paper labels currently in use. It plans to launch the new program in phases, and it will initially target the San Jose airport in California. The airline will initially distribute 2,500 of the tags for free to its frequent flyers from the airport by the end of 2022. TechCrunch reports, and they will be available for purchase by Mileage Plan members next year.
Alaska Airlines plans to use the tags to reduce the amount of time customers spend on flight management at the airport. Instead of having to print a luggage tag in person, they can set up the electronic luggage tag at home while checking in via the mobile app. Then, when customers arrive at the San Jose airport, they can use a self-service baggage drop-off without having to print a new label. Overall, Alaska Airlines hopes customers can reduce the amount of time they spend checking baggage at the airport by as much as 40 percent.
BagTag is the manufacturer behind the electronic tags, which are already used by other airlines outside the US, including Air Dolomiti, Austrian, China Southern, Lufthansa and Swiss. The Flex model that Alaska Airlines appears to be using is programmed via NFC by holding an iPhone or Android handset next to the tag to transmit the required information. BagTag advertises that the tag is “battery-free” and never needs to be recharged, unlike an earlier version of the technology Alaska Airlines began testing in 2015.
“This technology allows our guests to label their own bags in seconds and makes the entire check-in process almost all outside the airport,” said Charu Jain, Alaska’s senior vice president of merchandising and innovation. “Not only do our electronic baggage tags allow our guests to quickly drop off their baggage after they arrive at the airport, but the devices also allow our employees to spend more one-on-one time with guests requesting assistance and queues at reduce our lobbies.”
No doubt the tags also save on the paper that has to be used to make traditional tags, although I can imagine using one electronic tag hundreds of times to make it more resource efficient. In any case, they are robustly designed, with an IP65 rating for dust and water resistance, and a testing process that TechCrunch reports involved running luggage carts, catering trucks and jetbridge wheels to see if they would break (they didn’t).