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No More Paper: Alaska Airlines Introduces Mobile-Only Check-in System

The airline is investing $2.5 billion to transform the lobbies of its hubs and focus cities with a next-generation mobile-only check-in system

by Lauren Smith

April 20, 2023

Photo: Courtesy of Alaska Airlines

Twenty years after it revolutionized the check-in process by introducing self-service kiosks, Alaska Airlines will ditch the stations entirely in favor of a streamlined mobile-only system designed to get passengers through the airport more quickly and reduce paper waste.

The carrier was the first to introduce the now ubiquitous self-service kiosks in airport lobbies around the turn of the millennium, allowing passengers to print boarding passes, select seats, and check bags independently. But the airline says the kiosks are now “dated” and contribute to lines in airport lobbies.

Photo: Rendering of the airline’s Sea-Tac lobby equipped with the new check-in system. Courtesy of Alaska Airlines.

“As we thought about how to provide the most caring experience for our guests, it was clear the lobby was a pain point,” said Charu Jain, the carrier’s vice president of innovation and merchandising.

“We realized the majority of our guests were doing most of the kiosk actions on their own phones, and we could reduce the congestion in our airports,” she added.

To expedite passengers’ journey through the check-in process, the airline is investing $2.5 billion to transform the lobbies of its hubs and focus cities: Seattle (SEA), Portland (PDX), San Francisco (SFO), Los Angeles (LAX), and Anchorage (ANC).

In the place of kiosks, the airline will harness mobile technology. Before they arrive at the airport, travelers will be encouraged to check in and obtain a boarding pass through the Alaska Airlines app on their cell phones. Alternatively, they can check in on desktop computers and send passes to their phones or print them out.

Photo: Courtesy of Alaska Airlines

The airline said that three-quarters of passengers are already turning up with boarding passes in airports with the new system. It also pointed to research showing that 85% of Americans—the “vast majority”—own smartphones.

As a bonus, using mobile-only boarding passes reduces paper waste, “an important step toward our sustainability goals,” the carrier said.

When they arrive at the airport, passengers will head directly to new bag tag stations Alaska Airlines is already installing in lobbies. Inspired by the systems already in place in some international airports, these stations can scan the passenger’s faces, government-issued I.Ds., and bags. Using an iPad, the passengers can pay to check bags and obtain tags to attach themselves. They then load their bags onto a conveyor belt to be taken to the aircraft.

Most airports with Alaska Airlines counters will have their kiosks removed by the end of 2023, with the new baggage drop points—already live at some hubs—widely launched and fully operational by the spring of 2024.

Photo: Courtesy of Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines says the new process can take travelers from the airport doors to security in under five minutes.

“Alaska was the first airline to introduce kiosks more than 20 years ago, and we’ll be the first airline to remove them. We’re looking forward to offering the new full guest experience next summer,” Jain said.

Alaska said it’s aware that some passengers will continue to need extra assistance, including those who aren’t comfortable with mobile technology or need passports checked for international travel. It said it will “always have customer service agents available” and said the transformation gives travelers “the choice between getting through the lobby quickly or receiving personalized help.”