Katherine Scott and Tim Biggs
Lost and delayed baggage continues to plague the airline industry amid rising travel demand and widespread shortages of baggage handlers.
Some airlines have taken extreme measures to deal with the crisis. US carrier Delta Air Lines flew a plane full of delayed baggage and no passengers from London to Detroit this week. Icelandair, meanwhile, puts its own baggage handlers on board flights to Amsterdam to ensure bags are offloaded at the city’s crowded Schiphol Airport.
Amid horror stories of lost and delayed bags, travelers are turning to bag-tracking devices to ensure they can locate their belongings, even when airlines can’t.
Earlier this month, Victorian bicycle technology consultant Shane Miller went viral after recording his trip with lost luggage on YouTube.
Miller’s luggage, which contained more than $6,000 worth of cycling gear and personal effects, disappeared after he flew to Melbourne from Europe. The frequent flyer had packed Apple AirTags tracking devices in his luggage especially for this scenario and was able to locate his luggage shortly after landing.
“I’ve been trying to call the airport helpdesk number provided all week with no answer. I knew where the bag was as soon as it landed in Melbourne and as soon as they got it to their offices. I gave them a week to bring the bag to me, or contact me. They didn’t do either of those things,” said Müller.
In the video, Miller shows how he was able to use the AirTag to pinpoint the exact location of the missing bag and track its whereabouts to Melbourne Airport and the offices of baggage-handling company Swissport.
“There were many other bags in the Swissport offices. I was only there to collect mine and when I had it I was back quickly before any further questions were asked,” he said of his successful bag pickup assignment.
Thanks to their ease of use and relatively low price, tracking devices have become the new must-have technology for many travelers.
Users with an iPhone 11 or newer can locate a tag with high precision up to about 60 meters away, but, more importantly for luggage, you can still monitor it even if it’s lost or stolen.
Apple uses the brand’s global “Find My” network, which spans nearly a billion devices, to help locate lost items.
An AirTag marked as lost can connect to any nearby iPhone to determine its location and display it on your phone’s map, wherever you are.
However, like most Apple products, AirTag requires that you already own an iPhone or iPad in order to be set up.
Android users still have options, including the cross-platform Tile tracker. The brand pioneered Bluetooth tracking almost a decade ago and today makes a range of travel-friendly trackers, including slim-design luggage tags for suitcases and passport holders, and sticker trackers for electronic devices or wallets.
Tracking technology still has a long way to go. AirTags and Tiles are primarily designed to find keys and other items that you’ve misplaced but are still nearby.
While they can help locate lost or stolen items that may be in another country, they rely on pinging other nearby internet-connected phones to do so. Those with valuables might consider a more expensive GPS-based tracker like GEGO GPS, which comes with a monthly fee but can orient itself to GPS and cellular networks for constant tracking.
Bluetooth-based trackers are relatively inexpensive. AirTags are $45 while Tile trackers are only $25. Both are great for instantly locating nearby misplaced items or tracking down luggage that’s dropped farther away, and should last a year or more on one battery.
Smart, or connected, luggage was once touted as the thing that would change air travel, but airlines began banning these bags in 2017 over safety concerns over the lithium batteries they contain.
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