Alaska Airlines has recently begun rolling out a new electronic luggage tag to some of their customers. Is it a useful technology or just a dumb idea?
When I first heard about it, I was intrigued. You check into your flight on your phone and then electronically create a customized luggage tag by wirelessly relaying the information from the phone to the tag. The 3 x 5 inch tag has a low power e-ink display, similar to what’s used on a Kindle. Alaska is charging about $75 each, and is the first U.S. airline to offer the device, although it’s been around for about five years.
Alaska is using the tag as a way to reduce the time a passenger needs to spend in the terminal and wait in line at the ticket counter, as a part of their effort to get passengers to the gate more quickly. They want their passengers to be able to get to the airport with many of the tasks they need to do completed at home, including getting boarding passes, selecting their seats, and preparing their checked luggage for dropoff. Then, when they arrive they can bypass the lines at the counter by dropping off their ticketed bags at a check point. Of course, that also means fewer airline agents are needed.
But the electronic tag they’re using is not all it could be. It doesn’t have geo-location technology to keep track of where the bag is at anytime. It’s simply a much more expensive digital version of the paper tag with a barcode that’s read by the baggage handling equipment to get the bag to the correct destination or identify it if it’s lost.
The bag tag is based on technology from the Netherlands company, BAGTAG, founded in 2014. It was first used by the high-end German luggage company RIMOWA and Lufthansa in 2018. In that implimentation the tag was permanently attached to the face of the luggage.
The Alaska Airlines electronic bag tag will be available for purchase starting in 2023 and will operate on all Alaska Airlines marketed flights operated by Alaska Airlines, Horizon Air and SkyWest Airlines.
The entire concept seems like a non-starter if the customer is asked to pay so much for the tags. Replacing a paper tag with a $75 reusable tag is unlikely to be widely adopted, especially with many travelers flying with more than one piece of checked luggage. The time savings for the customer is not worth the cost or effort. It’s really for the airline’s benefit.
Alaska might have better succes by adding a luggage tracker to the tag that keeps tab on its location. That way the passenger gets something of value with the purchase: piece of mind knowing where their bags are anytime.
Or if the airline truly wants their customers to print their baggage tags at home,why not use their printer to create a tag that can be inserted in an inexpensive oversized tag.
While Alaska’s intent – speeding us to our gates – is welcome, this seems like a clumsy way to do it. Sometimes high-tech is not the best solution.