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It’s been a summer of lost luggage. Debilitating staffing shortages paired with increased demand for flights as people feel more comfortable traveling have led to growing piles of suitcases and duffles separated from their owners, left languishing in airports only to go viral on social media. If you’re flying this summer, travel experts recommend only taking a carry on. But sometimes you need to check a bag—so how do you ensure it makes it to your final destination?
Enter Apple’s AirTags. First released in April 2021, the AirTag connects to your iPhone via a bluetooth signal, and allows you to track its precise location in the “Find My” app. These $29 easy-to-set-up devices have batteries that last around a year, and were initially marketed to help users keep track of small personal items, like keys, a wallet, or a kindle. This summer, however, AirTags have become a much sought-out travel accessory, because they can track your checked bag—even when the airline, or the airport, doesn’t know where it is.
“I am a huge fan of AirTags, especially with all of the recent baggage issues this summer. I highly recommend passengers buy AirTags to keep track of their bags especially when flying international and/or with connecting flights,” Brian Kelly, the founder of The Points Guy, a travel advice site that focuses on credit card points and airline miles, tells Town & Country. Amid the current chaotic travel landscape, Kelly has been using AirTags to make certain he always knows where his luggage is at any given time.
While the brand name “AirTag” is quickly becoming shorthand for this particular kind of tiny tracking device, it should be noted that it’s hardly the only one on the market—especially because AirTags only work with iPhones, or other Apple devices like iPads. Samsung makes a Galaxy SmartTag, which functions extremely similarly to the AirTag but only for Samsung smartphones. Similarly, the Tile Pro has long been marketed as a solution to find lost luggage, and is compatible with all types of smartphones. However, unlike AirTags, Tile requires a subscription for features like location history, and the set-up is not as intuitive. There’s also the Chipolo One, compatible with both iOS and Android devices, that emits an extremely loud noise to help you find your lost object.
Alternatively, instead of using a tracking device, you can try shipping your luggage to its final destination. Tesa Totengco, a travel agent who founded Travels with Tesa, told T&C that while she has not personally used AirTags or any other tracker, she recommends her clients ship their luggage to their destination to bypass the lost luggage issue entirely, “especially with a dicey flight connection.“
All that said, it’s not just travel experts turning to AirTags. Dr. Stéphanie Chouinard, a professor of political scientist at Royal Military College in Kingston, Canada, posted on Twitter, “if you’re travelling this summer, seriously consider putting an AirTag in your checked luggage.”
“I’ve seen a lot of friends and colleagues travel over the summer, and have their luggage get lost or arrive to their destination quite a few days late,” Chouinard tells T&C. AirTags, she notes, “can save some time and some grief when you’re traveling, and you don’t have an option but to check your luggage.”
Plus, even when you intend to bring a carry on, that bag could end up in a plane’s cargo hold with the rest of the checked luggage. Commercial airplanes often do not have enough space in overhead bins for every passenger’s suitcase—especially given current concerns over lost luggage—which leads to numerous carry ons getting gate-checked. If you’re not in an early boarding group, consider slipping an AirTag into your carry on. Because while sometimes these gate-checked bags can end up at the jet bridge upon arrival, more often than not, they have to be claimed at the baggage carousel.
AirTags have been around for just over a year, and there have been documented security concerns around the device—one Washington Post article after the release of the device said they make it “frighteningly easy” to stalk someone—but the trackers are perfectly legal to use when traveling. Lisa Faberstein, TSA’s spokesperson, tells Town & Country that the TSA has no policy against travelers placing AirTags, or similar trackers, in their own luggage. “They are not prohibited items,” she says.
While an AirTag can contribute to peace of mind when traveling, seeing your luggage far away from you with nothing you can do about it still doesn’t feel great.
That is exactly what happened to Olympic athlete Sarah Mitton. Mitton, who represents Canada in the shot put, told Town & Country she initially purchased an AirTag because her teammates kept losing their luggage. Soon after, she lost her bag—filled with irreplaceable Team Canada gear—on a connection in Germany following the 2022 Commonwealth Games. Though it was lost, she could see exactly where it was.
“At first [the AirTag] made me feel pretty secure,” Mitton says, “knowing it’s not ‘lost lost.'” Yet, seeing exactly where the bag is and being unable to reclaim soon became frustrating, as she could see her bag was “sitting in the exact same location” for five days.
According to the Department of Transportation, in just May 2022, around 230,000 bags were mishandled in airports in the United States—up over 100,000 from the previous year. If your bag is lost, and you see it’s lost, you should file a missing baggage report (which varies depending on what airline you travel), and ask what the airline will cover. For example, airlines like Delta and United allow for reimbursement for expenses you may incur because of your lost, or delayed, luggage.
“I’m hopeful we’ll start to see some improvement this fall but wouldn’t be surprised if chaos resumes again this holiday season,” The Points Guy‘s Kelly said of the current state airport travel and lost luggage. Yet, he continued, “experts and airline executives have said we won’t see a real change until 2023.”
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