Last updated: 01:30 PM ET, Fri March 25 2016

Is This The Baggage Tag of The Future?

Airlines & Airports | Josh Lew | March 25, 2016

Is This The Baggage Tag of The Future?

PHOTO: Electronic baggage tags are the newest development from Alaska Airlines' R&D arm. (Photo courtesy of Alaska Airlines)

Alaska Airlines' research and development team, Customer Experience Labs (CX Labs), has come up with a number of different features over the past few years, focusing on biometric systems to allow automated lounge access and even to streamline boarding. And now, they've turned their considerable engineering prowess to an oft-overlooked part of the travel experience: the humble baggage tag.

Electronic baggage tags

The CX team is now testing an idea that could become one of its most useful to date: electronic baggage tags.  The reusable tags are made from plastic and have a small screen. They do not use much power, so they have a two-year lifespan, and they can sync with a smartphone wirelessly via Bluetooth.

The tags were not actually made by Alaska Airlines, but a tech firm in Pennsylvania called Vanguard ID Systems. The airline is now testing adding the ability to download check-in information for bags equipped with the tag via its smartphone app. This means that fliers would be able to check their bags at home and simply drop them off at the airport without having to recheck them. (They would still have to show ID during the drop-off as required by current U.S. regulations 

Still in the easy phase of testing

The first round of testing for the tags has already been completed.

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Last summer, 60 Alaska Airlines employees used the tags while they traveled. The results of this initial experiment were positive, so in the fall a group of Alaska's frequent flyers began testing the tags as they flew on regular commercial flights.

This year, the airline plans to ramp up testing. As many as 500 frequent flyers will be able to try out the tags. The idea seems great on paper because it adds a level of convenience that frequent flyers will value. However, it looks like Alaska Airlines will wait until it sees how the wider sample of testers feel about the product this summer before deciding on the next move.

Experimenting with the latest tech

Alaska’s director of airport services, Sunae Park, explains that the airline has never been afraid to test new technology: "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. 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.”

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Other airlines also working on this idea

Though it is not quite as quick as uploading your information from your smartphone onto the baggage tag, Alaska, like some other airlines, does already offer a do-it-yourself baggage tag system that can streamline the check-in process. The airline has special reusable holders that allow passengers to print out their tag at home and slide it into the holder. Then, they only have to flash their ID while dropping off their bag at the check-in counter.

Other airlines have also been developing baggage-related features. The Fly Delta app allows passengers to track their baggage in real time, even while they are flying. Qantas already uses electronic tags, and some airlines are even looking into the possibility of being able to use satellites to track bags. 


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