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How to Use AirTags to Track Lost Baggage


Traveling has always been complicated, but the coronavirus pandemic has made it harder than ever. Our By The Way Concierge column will put your travel dilemmas to the experts to help you navigate the new normal. Want to see the answer to your question? Submit it here.

This week, we’re tackling one of the biggest travel problems this summer: lost luggage. As we reported, checking a bag was a nightmare. Many travelers hoping to avoid such a calamity have chosen not to do so altogether, but not everyone can cut short their trip. If you have to check, is getting a tracking device — such as an Apple AirTag — a solution to the problem?

After a summer of watching so many travelers deal with the disaster of lost luggage, I warned my parents not to check a bag while vacationing in Europe. They fixed the problem last year and it almost ruined their week-long trip to Florida. But this time they had a plan. “Dad bought AirTags,” my mom told me on the phone.

My parents joined a growing wave of people fighting to regain control of an unpredictable summer of travel. In 2022, American travelers saw their luggage damaged or lost at a higher rate than last year, with more than 237,000 mishandled bags in May alone. And it’s not just an American problem; in Europe, luggage piles up in airports.

Would Apple’s AirTags help my parents avoid ending up in this statistic? I spoke to frequent users and travel experts to get their thoughts.

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Kathy McCabe, host of the “Dream of Italy” travel show on PBS, bought eight Apple AirTags. She had seen Brian Kelly of the Points Guy raving about his and had decided to buy them before a trip abroad to shoot his show.

“It’s not just a vacation,” she says. “There’s a lot of money at stake.”

Packing an AirTag, or another Bluetooth tracking device like Tile, is one way to feel more in control of your trip. The technology allows travelers to see where their luggage (or other tagged items) are at any time from their phone, tablet or computer.

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But an AirTag won’t keep your bag from ending up in bag limbo. Mistakes happen, systems malfunction, and labor shortages continue. Or even worse, someone steals your bag. Jen Moyse, vice president of product for travel app TripIt, says travelers should also remember that no tracking device is foolproof — meaning they can run out of battery.

While they don’t reduce the risk of losing your bag, “the real benefit is that you can have more information about where your items are,” Moyse said in an email. “Which can be particularly reassuring if the airline itself does not have an exact location for your bag.”

Some major airlines will notify customers via their app where their baggage is, at least in a general sense.

“The American Airlines app is pretty good at saying it’s been checked in, it’s been loaded, it’s been unloaded because their system analyzes things,” said Jon Daniel, a frequent flyer who doesn’t swears more than AirTags for luggage.

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As someone who works in the sale of consumer electronics, Daniel says he was an early adopter of the technology, but hadn’t considered packing it in his luggage until what travel is starting to pick up during the pandemic.

Although he usually trusts an airline’s app to see where his bags are going, Daniel says all bets are off if there’s a glitch in the system, or if someone accidentally brings his bags back. luggage home after baggage claim – which actually happened (he finally got the bag back). This is where the AirTags can at least help to know where the bag is.

Even if you have an AirTag on your bag, you may not easily retrieve it, because witness the times of social media and once again. You will therefore always want to take some standard precautionary measures in the event of a disaster. (And if your bag does indeed go rogue, here’s how to get it back.)

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Suzanne Morrow, senior vice president of InsureMyTrip, recommends taking photos of your luggage as well as what’s packed inside. Read the wording of your travel insurance policy if you have one to make sure you know what is covered and what is not.

Even if you’re a carry-on-only type of traveler, Moyse recommends putting an AirTag in your carry-on in case overhead compartment space runs out and you have to check at the gate.

“Although in this scenario, your bag is much less likely to be left behind as it usually goes straight from the boarding ramp to the plane’s cargo,” Moyse added.

Daniel and McCabe are already following this advice. Daniel uses AirTags in his luggage and backpack. McCabe, the host of the travel show, has one in her laptop bag, her carry-on, her checked luggage, a pouch where she keeps valuables such as her passport – and “then there has one on the dog,” she said of her son fox terrier, Phineas.

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