Airline check-in kiosks were supposed to be a money-saving investment – a classic example of automation replacing workers. But Alaska is moving to the next stage of evolution in cost-savings in the Portland airport where they’re now eliminating even kiosk jobs.
Alaska Airlines says its passengers will need to print their boarding passes at home or load them onto a smartphone to fly through Portland International Airport.
The airline is replacing the self-serve kiosks that print boarding passes as part of what it described as a new “check-in experience,” and it says boarding passes for Alaska flights won’t be available on the airport’s common-use kiosks, either.
Alaska has already eliminated check-in kiosks in Las Vegas; Indianapolis; Cleveland; Missoula; and Boise. The airline of course says this isn’t about cost, it’s about the environment, since this will “cut down on paper use” as they encourage you to use larger full sheets of paper from your home printer.
There will still be customer service agents on site for those who don’t show up with boarding pass in hand. And they won’t charge for the service the way ultra low cost carriers do. But with fewer staff, and no longer a kiosk option, expect to wait for this. Currently 25% of Alaska Airlines passengers check-in at a kiosk or in-person.
American Airlines shut down the self-serve kiosks they had near gates during the pandemic. They were old machines and the airline didn’t want to invest in updates since they aren’t used nearly as much as check-in kiosks. Those are being used constantly.
Perhaps Alaska Airlines passengers in the Pacific Northwest are more technologically savvy and more prone to using the Alaska Airlines app. And maybe Portland is a market the airline isn’t worried about inconveniencing those who don’t with long lines. While they’ve reconfigured check-in options in recent years in Seattle, they need to remain competitive there with Delta. Ultimately, as word gets out, many passengers will shift to a model that is more convenient for the airline and limits the amount of time at the airport. And Alaska has awesome permanent electronic baggage tags for doing-it-yourself bag check as well.
And maybe we shouldn’t miss these kiosks anyway because they can be the dirtiest thing at the airport, with up to 1475 times the bacteria of a toilet seat, though different airlines have different standards for their cleaning. Delta, for instance, has told me they clean their kiosks multiple times per day and they have an auditing program in place to to ensure this happens.
Update: Alaska Airlines shared the following statement,
We’re introducing new technology to help our guests have a seamless travel experience. Our airport lobbies are in the process of being modernized with the goal of getting guests through the lobby to security more quickly. This means fewer lines and more time for that pre-trip snack.
Based on the understanding that the vast majority of Americans own a smartphone, the first step in this modernization is having guests check-in and secure their boarding pass (either digital or printed) before they come to the airport. New bag tag stations will replace dated kiosks in lobbies where guests will pay for and tag their checked bags using iPad tablets – all other actions should be done before arriving at the airport.
The Alaska Airlines app is the perfect pre-trip tool, but guests can also check-in on a desktop and send a boarding pass to their phone or print one at home. For guests who need more assistance at the airport, we will always have customer service agents available. Airports have already begun changing to the new tablets and guests are adapting – with 3 out of 4 guests arriving with a boarding pass in hand to airports with the new technology.
In addition to the time saved by our guests, this change also helps us reduce the amount of paper we use – an important step toward our sustainability goals.