No Lines at Alaska Air’s Re-Imagined Check-in

In yesterday’s Wall St. Journal, Alaska Air was praised for their decision to rethink the entire check-in procedure, making their new terminal in Anchorage and soon one in Seattle much more user friendly by hiding the counters. Completion of Alaska’s first island at SEATAC is expected before the holiday travel season. Construction on the other two will continue during the holidays but will not affect travel.

Traditional check-in buildings have been long and narrow. The back of the walls have always been where the counters are, and the lines snaking endlessly until they reach that familiar counter.

But Alaska decided to change it all up…now they have 50 self-service kiosks and a series of vertical entrance paths where passengers can check in and then give their bags to a staff person who is around the corner. They’ve actually hidden a few of the traditional back-wall counters so that people will go to the kiosks, instead of where they are used to going. Airline staff circulate to help passengers instead of sitting imperially behind the counters.

The building is light and airy, and there are windows that overlook the mountains. The building was designed to accommodate many more people because there aren’t any of those famous snaking lines. Most airline check-in areas are dark, and not as spacious.

So far it’s working for Alaska Air. Check-in is much faster, lines are far, far shorter, and they are working on building this same type of arrangement in Portland next year.

Other airlines like Delta are taking notice, and building similar structures. One thing that Alaska will not try to offer again is to have passengers affix and handle their own baggage…the result was confusion about where to put the tags and where to bring the bags. So they still have a staff person for that but the rest is pretty much done on your own.