Will Electronic Bag Tags Make Air Travel Less Chaotic?

Amid delays, cancellations and long lines, Alaska Airlines is rolling out a new technology that could make checking a bag easier and faster

Long lines at airports
Travelers are facing long lines, delays, cancellations and other disruptions at airports this summer. Photo by Sean Gallup / Getty Images

Airports are a mess right now. As travelers eagerly return to the skies after two years of staying closer to home during the pandemic, they’re facing flight delays, cancellations and long lines at airports around the world, primarily because of staffing shortages.

Now, one American airline is hoping technology will help ease some of the havoc. Alaska Airlines will begin allowing customers to attach electronic tags to their suitcases in hopes of speeding up the airport check-in process and freeing up employees’ time for other tasks, per a statement.

With the new tags, travelers won’t have to wait in line to print baggage labels at the airport. Instead, they’ll be able to attach the tag to their luggage at home, then activate it up to 24 hours before departure using the airline’s mobile app.

Electronic bag tags
Alaska's new electronic bag tags Courtesy of Alaska Airlines

The process involves touching the phone to the tag, which uses an antenna to read the transmission. Once activated, the tag uses e-paper technology to display the guest's flight information and a bar code on its small screen. The bag's owner will then be able to leave it at a designated self-drop location at the airport.

The devices do not contain batteries and get a small amount of energy from the phone used to activate them, reports TechCrunch’s Frederic Lardinois.

Alaska Airlines expects the electronic tags to reduce the time travelers spend dropping off their checked bags by 40 percent, per the statement. They should also help shorten lines at the airlines' kiosks in the airport.

“Fifty percent of our guests check in a bag and that means they need a bag tag because the bag tag is needed to route it through the whole system,” Charu Jain, Alaska Airlines’ senior vice president of merchandising and innovation, tells TechCrunch

The airline plans to roll out the technology in phases, starting with travelers flying through California’s San Jose International Airport in late 2022. Alaska Airlines will initially provide free tags to about 2,500 frequent fliers, then the company will make the tags available for purchase to all of its loyalty program members in early 2023. The airline did not share the anticipated price of the tags; however, they’re listed as starting at around $72 on Bagtag’s website.

Company officials say they believe Alaska Airlines is the first U.S. airline to use electronic bag tags, which the Netherlands-based company Bagtag developed in 2014.

Several international airlines already use the technology, including Lufthansa, Air Dolomiti, Austrian, China Southern and Swiss. Per Bagtag, several other airlines are also gearing up to implement the devices.

As they prepare to launch the technology, Alaska Airlines employees put the tags—made out of highly durable plastic—to the test by running them over with luggage carts, catering trucks and jet bridge wheels, per TechCrunch. They stood up well to the wear and tear, and airline officials say they could last a lifetime.

Woman at airport
Tourists traveling by air, by car and by train are all running into challenges this summer. Pixabay

Alaska Airlines' announcement comes amid widespread issues at airports across the globe. London’s Heathrow Airport has instituted a passenger cap because of staffing shortages. In the U.S., meanwhile, airlines canceled 88,161 flights between January and May because of bad weather, labor challenges and other issues.

Travelers who are choosing to drive instead of fly are facing sky-high gas prices at the pump, and Amtrak train travelers are also grappling with delays and disruptions.

“This is an extraordinarily difficult season of travel,” Marc Casto, president of leisure brands in the Americas for the travel agency Flight Centre Travel Group, tells the Washington Post’s Hannah Sampson and James Bikales. “It’s a confluence of multiple forces all hitting at the exact same time, which has resulted in a poor experience for everybody involved.”