At the airport of the future, you'll tag your own checked bag and even board the plane without the assistance of an employee. In fact, the first actual employee you might encounter may be the flight attendant, Alaska Airlines' COO tells the Wall Street Journal. And the future may not be that far off: Alaska offers self-tagging baggage service in two airports so far, and eight more are coming this year. American is launching the same technology over the next two years in a number of major airports, and in Las Vegas, JetBlue is going a step further by allowing customers to self-board by scanning their own tickets.
Airlines say the new processes will save time and money, and insist that it's not about "getting rid of humans," as one expert puts it. Rather, increasing self-service allows human employees to focus on people who really need help. Employee unions, of course, don't exactly agree with that assessment, and they may be on to something. The International Air Transport Association wants 80% of fliers around the globe to have a completely self-serviced experience at the airport by 2020—and notes that doing so would save $2.1 billion a year. But the first attempts are not without their snags: At Las Vegas, a recent JetBlue boarding process was held up when the system got overloaded and employees were forced to manually board fliers. (Read more airport stories.)