How American Airlines Is Dramatically Cutting Down Bag Check-in Wait Times With New Kiosk Strategy

Airline check-in kiosks were supposed to be a money-saving investment – a classic example of automation replacing workers. At Alaska Airlines, kiosk jobs are in jeopardy as that carrier tells passengers to print their boarding pass at home instead of at the airport terminal kiosk.

I thought that American might follow Alaska’s lead. After all, they de-commissioned old kiosks at airport gates. However a new generation of kiosks is rolling out across the system to assist with airport check-in.

  • American is encouraging customers to prepay for bags with a discount (of course you may wind up prepaying bags and then not checking as many – overpaying for your bags)

  • Another way they’re encouraging this is speeding up bag drop for prepaid bags. You can just scan your boarding pass and out will pop the bag tags. Much faster than the current process!

Old Gateside Kiosk

New kiosks will roll out at many airports “over the next several months” mirroring what American has done in Dallas and Miami. They also have new “express bag tag kiosks” that will print bag tags in under 30 seconds if you’re already paid for bags (or aren’t required to). The airline will be marketing use of these machines with an email sent four hours prior to departure. Later in the year another round of rollouts will begin.

Here’s American’s internal note to employees about the new kiosks:

American Airlines turned curbside check-in from a cost center to a profit center by outsourcing to Bags, Inc. outside of Miami where curbside remains operated by Envoy Air. They could further turn check-in into a profit center by having bag tag kiosks solicit tips?

Employees aren’t allowed to accept cash, gift cards, or gift certificates but there’s no such prohibition on machines accepting them, and airport concessions operators already ask for tips at self-checkout.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Alaska Airlines check in time for me has increased 10-fold. This is terrible. Before a kiosk would spit out a boarding pass in about a minute. Now it takes 10 minutes to wait for an agent if I want a paper boarding pass.

  2. United has had bag drop shortcut for many years now. And that still seems better than this implementation. Bag drop shortcut at United is at the counter with a boarding pass scan, your bag tags print behind the counter and the agent tags/takes your bags. Takes the step of self tagging and bringing your bags to the counter out of the equation, improving efficiency and convenience even more.

  3. Delta is also testing self-printing of luggage tags at DFW. You scan your boarding pass and enter number of bags, etc. and the luggage tags are automatically printed. You then drop bags off at a designated counter for such bags. It worked quite well when I was at DFW last week.

  4. Gary Leff’s update on American Airlines’ evolving kiosk strategy is quite enlightening. It’s impressive how they are not just keeping pace but also innovating with their new express bag tag kiosks. This seems like a smart move to enhance customer experience and efficiency. Thanks for sharing this, it’s interesting to see how technology continues to reshape travel!

  5. Do the new kiosks still print non-compliant tags? At most AA kiosks in the US, the bottom bar on the IATA code is removed when the customer removes the adhesive backing, leaving the tag with 9 characters and not 10 in the bar code. This renders half the T-code unreadable by the automated tag readers in the BHS.

  6. Except this doesn’t work with elites who do not pay for bags – seems like a missed opportunity to not include checked bag as part of the online check-in process.

  7. Agree with Rick.

    Delta has had this for as long as I can remember at MSP.

    Prints boarding pass and also checked luggage sticker.

    Works far better in my opinion than standing in line forever.

  8. Why not just jump to the inevitable and start allowing folks to print tags at home? Cruise lines have been doing this for years now

  9. I found QF does this well. At the first station (just like others’ kiosks) you check in, get paper b/pass (if desired), and print luggage tags (if checking ). If you have checked luggage, you move foward to the automated drop station that scans luggage size, weighs it, and reads tag before whisking backstage. There are roaming agents to help at either station.

  10. Welcome to 2020 American. A day late and dollar short. Under what rock did they find American Execs?

  11. It is backwards. Each tag should have a permanent tag. The airline knows where you are going (they should) this way the tag never changes. The sorting equipment has to get smarter but it is just software.

  12. Two thoughts/questions….
    Not that it typically helps, but will orange Priority tags be spit out by theses kiosks?
    Will this mean less check in agents in the future…a significant cost savings I’m sure.

  13. Wait, what, y’all can’t just print your own bag tags & then just load them onto the bag drop queue lane?!

    This is somehow “innovative”. We’ve had that in the rest of the world for nearly a decade.

    I prefer dealing with an actual human most the time so I guess I’ve just never realised how laughably behind in this the US is when I’m flying there

  14. I got yelled at PHL Terminal C about 2 years ago when I self-printed out the bag tag.

    I was confused after I weighted my bag since the agent didn’t say anything. Out of a sudden, she yelled at me “PUT YOUR BAG ON BELT, I’M NOT GOING TO DO IT.”

    Since then, I mostly flied Delta, sometimes United, rarely American. I have no idea why she needed to yell. She can simply point at the belt without a word then I would understand it, but she chose to yell.

    American Horror Story!!!

  15. @todikaos:

    There are priority kiosks at the airport

    When you use them there is an agent right there that hands you the priority tag

    Yes there are less agents. But 1 roaming agent can handle (estimating) 10 kiosks or so

    Others brought up atypical bags. Can’t use the kiosks for that.

  16. Why when we have e-tickets (remember paper tickets some of you?) and digital boarding passes on our phones WHY don’t we already have RFID enabled permanent baggage tags and skip the tagging process entirely.

    Let me register the bag to myself, it links with my PNR – travel record and I just go to the baggage drop. And also tell me where my bag is on every trip.

    IATA already has permanent baggage tag standards – WHY are the airlines not finally investing in baggage since they charge us just to check them?

    PS – Delta reduced lost luggage almost by half going to RFID tags. Which airline will be first to make the move? It is inevitable.

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