Alaska Airlines To Launch Their Own Electronic Bag Tag Program, Would You Pay For It?

Alaska Airlines just announced that the carrier soon becomes the first US airline to launch an electronic bag tag programoffering customers the option to attach a small generating device to their suitcase which they first have to purchase from Alaska.

The concept isn’t new, and far from innovative; in fact, it has already failed at least once with Rimowa integrating their eTag in baggage, and British Airways also tried to market these tags without much success.

Several airlines and even baggage manufacturer Rimowa have attempted to drive away from the traditional paper baggage tag, but so far success has been limited to Qantas in Australia while Rimowa failed miserably with their E-Tag products.

Alaska Airlines will be the first carrier to offer the system in the US according to their press release:

Alaska Airlines announced on Tuesday it’s poised to become the first US airline to launch an electronic bag tag program later this year.

“This technology allows our guests to tag their own bags in just seconds and makes the entire check-in process almost all off-airport,” said Charu Jain, senior vice-president of merchandising and innovation for Alaska Airlines. “Not only will travelers with the devices be able to quickly drop-off their luggage, our electronic bag tags will help also reduce lines in our lobbies and give our employees the opportunity to spend more one-on-one time with guests who ask for assistance. “

The electronic bag tags will allow guests to skip the step of printing traditional bag tags upon arrival at the airport. Instead, guests will be able to activate the devices from anywhere – their home, office or car – up to 24-hours before their flight using the Alaska Airlines mobile app.

The activation is done by simply touching the phone used for check-in to the electronic bag tag, which has an antenna that powers and reads the information transmitted from the phone. The e-paper bag tag’s screen will then display the guest’s flight information.

Jain expects Alaska Airline’s electronic bag tag will reduce the time guests spend dropping-off checked luggage by 40%. For example, a guest flying through Alaska Airline’s tech hub at Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport, could drop off their luggage at the self-bag drop in three minutes or less.

“Alaska Airlines is the first US airline to pioneer this innovative electronic bag tag program here at SJC,” said San José Mayor Sam Liccardo. “This program will modernize the check-in process and provide a more sustainable option for travelers.”

“Our electronic bag tags will not require batteries and are durable enough to potentially last a lifetime,” said Jain.

Rollout of the electronic bag tags will happen in several phases. The first phase will initially include 2,500 Alaska Airlines’ frequent fliers who will begin using the electronic bag tags in late 2022. Mileage Plan members will have the option to purchase the devices starting in early 2023.

Alaska Airlines is partnering with Dutch company BAGTAG on the electronic bag tag. The devices are equipped with durable screens that have been tested to withstand being run over a luggage cart and are affixed to baggage just like any other bag tag, using an industrial strength plastic zip tie.

“We are very proud to announce the first American carrier adopting our EBT solutions,” said BAGTAG managing director Jasper Quak. “Alaska Airlines’ relentless efforts to make their passenger journey a true 21st-century experience makes us very confident in a successful rollout among their guests. “

If they give frequent fliers 2500 Mileage Plan miles every time they take a flight and check a bag then maybe there’d be a case for using them. I’d probably even check an empty bag or a box in that case just to get the miles but I bet it’s a one-time bonus.

Here is a video of the product which explains the procedure required for the bag tag to be loaded and attached.

I don’t like the design of this device especially since it’s only readable from one side. If it’s flipped over or something covers the display that that already creates an issue.

I have my doubt if this will gain a lot of traction in the US especially if people have to purchase these tags from the airline. I do not see the point why the passenger should pay extra money in order to buy equipment just to take the responsibility off the airline’s hands to label the baggage.

If anything goes wrong, then that’s just another layer where the carrier can possibly shed responsibility and blame the customer has done something wrong.

Here is how the Qantas product called Q-Tag looks like, slightly different from the Alaska version as it’s a slightly different technology:

In 2019, British Airways attempted to launch a similar device (for the second time) to what Alaska now touts, but I have never seen anyone using it and haven’t heard of anyone buying their tag either.

In fact, their website is not even allowing anyone to take orders as the project appears to have been shelved yet again.

Probably a good idea not to try something adventurous with baggage at the moment considering the mess at Heathrow Airport.

And then there was, of course, Rimowa that scrapped further production of the eTag feature-equipped baggage in mid-2018. The initial cooperating partners ANA All Nippon Airways, Lufthansa, and Eva Air might still accept it, but I would still feel more comfortable with a physical label.

Rimowa Discontinues Electronic Baggage Tag Feature Amid Lack of Consumer Demand & Airline Support

Rimowa might have terribly misjudged the functionality, consumer demand, and airline acceptance related to the eTagged baggage, with the product’s overall performance leaving a lot to be desired.

I expect that the future of baggage identification will be RFID and not the bar code but we aren’t there yet.

As long as I’m holding elite status with an airline or alliance, I’m not going to utilize any of such devices, especially not as long as I have to pay for them. Messing around with electronic tags and the app is nothing the passenger should be concerned with if there is the option of using the priority check-in counters where lines are usually short.

Conclusion

Alaska is now touting a new system of electronic baggage tags that are supposed to make the baggage drop easier. Personally I have my doubt that this will have the desired effect in real life. I’ve never had a baggage tag ripped off and something going wrong with a bag due to a tag issue in the last two decades. Why fix something that isn’t broken and the most important question: Why pay for that voluntarily?

It’s possible that Alaska will distribute tags to top-tier status customers on a complimentary basis to get this system going, but I’ll definitely pass on that. I’m happy that I haven’t purchased one of the useless Rimowa E-Tag suitcases that initially came with a premium, then were discounted, followed by Rimowa discontinuing producing the line entirely because airlines don’t accept the bags.

Will Alaska succeed contrary to the other carriers who tried to meddle with this solution?

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