Arriving back at Edinburgh Airport with my husband to find our checked bags hadn’t come home with us was hardly the ideal end to our otherwise dreamy Sicilian honeymoon. Also less than ideal: My husband sheepishly broke the news to me that he had packed his house keys in his suitcase.
What could have easily been the cause of our first argument as a married couple turned out to be a real blessing. This is because there was an Apple AirTag attached to these keys. This happy accident allowed us to check his phone and see that his suitcase (and hopefully mine too) had made it to London and was at that very moment at Heathrow Terminal 5. Over the next three days this gave us immense relief, as we witnessed the AirTag move from London to Edinburgh and then across the city to our home.
While Apple’s AirTags have proven controversial, especially when, it was a situation where they worked exactly as intended, offering us peace of mind and specific information about the location of our lost belongings. Without it, we would be at a loss as to where our possessions were and whether they would make it home.
I can’t say enough good things about the onboard service on our British Airways flights, but the process of reporting and claiming our bags through the airline’s online system was a mess. After submitting our reports, we received emails that did not include our names or tracking numbers, making it impossible to track our missing luggage. The only update came from the courier shortly before our bags were finally delivered to our front door.
The incident made me sure that I would never travel without AirTags again – as long as I had the choice to do so. But for a moment this week I worried I might not make it.
On Saturday, German airline Lufthansa told a customer on Twitter that it was banning AirTags and other tracking devices in checked baggage. When pressed, it said: “According to ICAO guidelines, baggage tracking devices are subject to dangerous goods regulations. Furthermore, due to their transmission function, tracking devices must be disabled during the flight if they are in checked baggage and cannot be used as a result.”
Lufthansa later retracted its statement, telling CNET affiliate The Points Guy: “The Lufthansa Group conducted its own risk assessment, which found that tracking devices with very low battery and transmission power in checked baggage do not pose a risk to safety. We have never issued a ban on devices like this.” The airline also told CNET that German aviation authorities agreed with its assessment.
There appears to be some confusion within the airline industry as to how to interpret international aviation regulations that are drawn up but not enforced by the International Civil Aviation Organization.
These rules specify that small portable electronic devices containing lithium batteries must be prevented from inadvertent activation and must be completely turned off (not in sleep or hibernation mode) if stored in checked baggage. But national governments must interpret these provisions and transpose them into law.
The concern with lithium batteries is that they pose a fire risk, but most national authorities and airlines continue to allow the small CR2032 batteries used in AirTags and other trackers. That includes the US Transportation Security Administration, which has specifically confirmed that passengers can put them in their checked baggage.
The benefits of traveling with AirTags or other trackers are clearer than ever. According to the US Department of Transportation’s Air Travel Consumer Report, more than 1.4 million bags were “mishandled” by US airlines between January and June this year, compared to about 693,000 during the same period the previous year. This summer there was a flurry of news about the global lost luggage crisis.
I was lucky enough to get my luggage back after only a few days, but many travelers whose suitcases never show up on the conveyor belt are not so lucky. No matter how good your travel insurance is at providing compensation, loss can be distressing and inconvenient. Knowing that your personal belongings could be anywhere in the world and possibly lying carelessly discarded on the airport floor can make you feel powerless.
AirTags cannot magically return your bags or provide guarantees that your airline will save them for you. But they can provide valuable information when automated, impersonal systems fail you. They can locate your luggage even when your airline has declared it lost. If you have no choice but to fight the airline to get back what’s yours, you have the evidence you need.
Ideally, you won’t need it – and in an ideal world, remember to transfer all your most important items into your carry-on before you fly. But as statistics and first-hand experience show, mistakes happen all the time. Better do yourself a favor and track your own luggage. And also make sure at least one person in your marriage is smart enough to keep their house keys close at hand.