Always innovating: Alaska testing electronic bag tags


Travel can be a hassle.

Nobody knows that better than the members of CX Labs, Alaska Airlines’ customer research and development team, who spend their days at the airport looking for travelers’ pain points and brainstorming ways to soothe them.

Since the department’s creation in 2013, the team has tested all kinds of new products and processes – some successful, some less so. In 2014, the team piloted the use of biometric check-in in Alaska’s Board Room airport lounges. In 2015, they expanded biometrics to a test of fingerprint boarding passes and IDs. Now, they’re taking checked luggage to the next level by testing electronic bag tags.

“Alaska has a long history of being willing to go out on a limb and test new technology – we were the first U.S. airline to sell tickets via the Internet, the first U.S. airline to offer Web check-in and the first airline in the world to use GPS to land airplanes. This culture of innovation is in our DNA,” says Sunae Park, Alaska’s managing director of airport services.

“We may try something new that never makes it to the customer, and that’s OK. The point is that we’re always thinking about what comes next.”

That next big thing might just be electronic bag tags – 2-by-3-inch reusable plastic tags with e ink screens (similar to an e-reader like a Kindle or Nook), powered by a low-energy, wireless Bluetooth technology. The tags are affixed to a suitcase like any other bag tag, using durable nylon cording, and are updated via the Alaska Airlines mobile app during the check-in process. They never need to be recharged during their two-year lifespan.

Download the app: iPhone | Android | Windows Phone

The tags were designed by engineers at Vanguard ID Systems of West Chester, Pennsylvania, who spent 10 years developing the product and worked closely with International Air Transport Association (IATA) members throughout the process.

Rick Nagy, Alaska’s product development manager for EBT and chair of the IATA baggage working group, says Vanguard ID has done a good job of following industry standards, making it easy for Alaska to integrate electronic bag tag check-in into its smartphone application.

“We’re really excited about the possibility of electronic bag tags. If we like what we see during the test, this could be a very cool new tool for our tech-savvy, do-it-yourself customers,” says Loesje Degroen, customer R&D manager and project lead.

The test kicked off in summer 2015 with 60 Alaska employees, who spent several months using electronic bag tags to check luggage as they traveled around Alaska’s route network. A select group of customers have been testing the tags on domestic flights since October 2015.

One such customer is Renee Hasler, an MVP Gold 75K on Alaska who flies multiple times every week.

“Overall, I love it. It’s quick and easy,” says Hasler. “If you’re a frequent traveler who wants more control and convenience in the travel process, using really efficient technology, you should definitely give it a try.”

This summer, 500 more of Alaska’s frequent fliers will have the opportunity to test the tags in an expanded customer trial.

If electronic bag tags make it to the mainstream, customers can expect the following day-of-travel timeline:

  1. Check in for your flight via the Alaska Airlines mobile app.
  2. When prompted, select the number of bags to be checked and complete check-in.
  3. Turn on the electronic bag tag to prepare it for syncing. The bag tag will automatically update.
  4. At the airport, find a customer service agent who will check your ID, scan the bag tag and send you on your way.

While electronic bag tags are still in testing mode, Alaska currently offers several time-saving options for checked luggage. Customers can tag their own bags by requesting a reusable bag tag holder online, or pick up a holder up at their departing airport, check in at and print luggage tags at home. At the airport, customers simply need to show ID at an Alaska baggage drop area.

What would you like to see Alaska’s research and development team test next?

17 Comments on “Always innovating: Alaska testing electronic bag tags

  1. What a great idea! I’d be happy to test them for you!

  2. Great idea! Now let’s test and see if you guys can put a live feed from the cockpit for passengers please!

    • Live audio, like United’s late, great channel 9 from the cockpit? That would be awesome!

    • +1 I really loved Channel 9 and flew United a few times just for that when I had otherwise equal options.
      I would pay money for the reusable electronic tag. Just make sure it has a permanent ID or non-changing barcode somewhere so that if the display dies, you’ll be able to figure out what it is offline.

  3. It works great and can we use the same ones over with return trip?

  4. I would love to be able to test it for myself, too. New and innovative! Excellent idea. But how delicate are they?

    • That was our question, too! When we first tested these on 50 employees last summer, we were specifically looking at durability and ensuring they could hold up to their two years of use.

  5. As a 75k myself, I Love to see the continuous improvement mindset at Alaska. Two major pain points for majority of customers – boarding and deplaning process. Would love to see some innovation in those processes…

  6. Especially withing Alaska many of use use boxes and totes. Would be nice to own a set of tags that could also be used on those pieces

  7. I’ve had the opportunity to use the electronic bag tags several times since Sept 2015 and find them to be convenient and easy. My experiences have been on direct flights of 1,000 to 2,500 miles, but the true test of durability will likely be with multiple connecting flights. I am optimistic that the tags will weather the challenge.

  8. I’d love to test these, and I’m officially geek-qualified! I won’t use the AS plastic holders for pre-printed passes since having the attachment loop rip upon arrival when I tried them last summer.

  9. Alaska Airlines ROCKS!. I am a loyal fan and Gold-level Frequent Flier. Your mobile app is great and I love how easily I can check-in and change seats and see my upgrade and flight status. Your consistency in service from the check-in, gate staff and flight crew leads the industry. You treat your customers the way they should be treated – kindness, respect and with a helpful attitude. Your on time performance to schedule is admirable. On the downside, you drive my expectations pretty high and when I fly with other airlines to destinations you don’t serve I am frequently disappointed because they don’t compare. BTW, I love your airplanes too – but I am a little bias there since I work for Boeing. Keep up the good work in pursuing innovative, useful, time saving technologies that are reliable, robust and end up in well designed solutions.

  10. The greatest thing any airline could do is convince the TSA that if the bag belongs to a KTN they don’t have to open it and rifle through our underpants. If I am trusted to fly, my bag should be trusted too!

  11. Sounds like a good idea. How about a lower or no change fee for passengers, especially when we book months ahead.

%d bloggers like this: