The electronic bag tag – a good idea or not?

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

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.

by Phil Baker

2 thoughts on “The electronic bag tag – a good idea or not?

  1. Henry Harteveldt says:

    Qantas has been using electronic bag tags for domestic Australian flights for several years. The airline has told me it’s been very successful and that passengers like it. But, because it can only be used on domestic flights (a function of where Qantas has installed the infrastructure to allow use of these electronic tags), its utility is limited.

    I believe Alaska plans to limit initial use of its new electronic tags to elite members of its Mileage Plan loyalty program. I suppose the logic is these are the travelers who may benefit the most, because they fly the airline most often, My hope is Alaska will track customer use, ensure the tags are working as expected with the airline’s baggage handling systems, make sure the tags themselves are functioning as expected, and measure customer satisfaction with the new tags before they proceed with a larger roll-out.

    I’ve received one of these tags, and will try it next time i fly the airline (I’m normally a carry-on only guy, so this will be a change in behavior for me). Presuming the tags work as they should — and that Alaska sells them for a much more appealing price ($75 is way too steep, IMHO) — it will be interesting to see whether these tags help the airline attract more customers and whether Alaska passengers with these tags are more likely to check bags as a result of having them compared to passengers who do not have the tags.

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