Alaska Airlines to Ditch Check-In Kiosks

The Seattle-based carrier is introducing a more streamlined smartphone-enabled check-in process.

An iPad with bag tag printing capabilities

The new bag tag printing machines are already rolling out at Alaska Airlines hub airports.

Courtesy of Alaska Airlines

In a move to get travelers from the airport’s front door to the TSA security lanes faster, Alaska Airlines this week announced that it’s doing away with its self-service check-in kiosk stations. Soon, all you’ll need for check-in and bag drop is your face and your phone.

The carrier has started phasing out the self-service kiosks that, for 20 years, have allowed travelers to check in, print boarding passes, select seats, input their frequent flier number, and print bag tags at the airports it services. Instead, there will two separate self-service devices that passengers will use exclusively for tagging and checking baggage.

“Our data revealed that most Alaska guests were already using their smartphones for the majority of our kiosk functionalities, indicating it was time to make some changes,” Charu Jain, Alaska Airlines senior vice president of innovation and merchandising, told AFAR.

Going forward, guests will be asked to check in on their phones before arriving at the airport—they’ll have the choice of either receiving their boarding pass via email (which they can either print at home or scan at the gate) or saving it in the app. Jain said that on average 70 percent of travelers check in before they arrive at the airport, so for many people, it won’t be a big change. He added that the airline is hoping to achieve 90 percent of guests arriving with boarding passes already in hand, but if guests would rather, they can still check in with an agent.

Alaska Airlines is already installing new baggage tagging stations (iPads mounted to stands with the capability to print bag tags and take credit card payments) at some airports, such as Portland and Las Vegas, and expects to outfit all of its hubs by the end of 2024. Jain said the average wait time at the traditional kiosks was two to three minutes, whereas the new bag tag stations cuts the average wait time down to just 45 seconds.

Starting with its main hub airports in 2024 (Seattle, Portland, Anchorage, and San Francisco), the airline will also begin installing automatic baggage drop areas. Travelers will be able to deposit their bag, without any interaction with airline staff, but only after a sensor has scanned their face, their I.D., and their bag tag.

According to the airline, the various changes will make it so travelers can breeze through the airport lobby in under five minutes. Jain said it will also free up agents to assist guests who might need more personalized help.

“Instead of transactional interactions like scanning every single bag tag, our agents are able to care for guests who need extra assistance, including families, guests traveling with pets, unaccompanied minors, or unique questions,” Jain said.

A 2022 Airport Insights Survey shows that more airports in general are increasing tech meant to streamline the passenger experience with self-service options—last year, airports spent an estimated $6.8 billion on technology. Paris’s Charles De Gaulle and Orly airports and Germany’s Dusseldorf airport are just two airports that have started installing self-service bag drop areas.

Perhaps the most futuristic development in the new Alaska check-in process is the facial scan that will be used for self-service bag checking. However, biometric technology isn’t an entirely new process at airports. Both Clear and Global Entry, two programs meant to provide quicker airport identification, use facial recognition. Late last year, TSA began testing face scanners at 16 airports nationwide in the name of convenience. And as Barbara Peterson, AFAR’s special correspondent for air, writes, airports in Los Angeles, Miami, Orlando, and San Diego have started using SITA (another facial recognition tech company) for paperless check-in and contactless bag drop-in trials.

Bailey Berg is a freelance travel writer and editor, who covers breaking news, trends, tips, transportation, sustainability, the outdoors, and more. She was formerly the associate travel news editor at AFAR. Her work can also be found in the New York Times, the Washington Post, National Geographic, Condé Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, the Points Guy, Atlas Obscura, Vice, Thrillist, Men’s Journal, Architectural Digest, Forbes, Lonely Planet, and beyond.
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