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Devices for tracking checked baggage

Picture of Manuel T. Rodríguez Jiménez

Manuel T. Rodríguez Jiménez

AERTEC / Airport Planning & Design

Apple Airtags are tracking devices that can be used to locate lost items. Until now, we were able to familiarize ourselves with such devices for easily tracking down objects, such as keys, wallets, backpacks, and others. Using them is easy, requiring simple configuration with the iPhone, iPad or iPod touch and affixing them to the corresponding item.

Private and real-time baggage tracking can be a key element for passenger’s experience and security, or in relation to the provision of services during flight.

In the aeronautical sector, one of the ways Airtags can be used is by placing them in checked baggage when traveling. This can be useful for locating luggage in the event of loss during flight or at the airport. However, apart from its obvious advantages, there are also some considerations to consider.

How does detection technology work and how do they transmit their location?

Apple Airtags use Bluetooth technology to transmit your location. Each tracking device has a built-in Bluetooth chip that can be detected by other Bluetooth-enabled devices in its vicinity. When your Bluetooth-enabled device carrying the detector is within 5 meters of the lost item, the mobile or tablet receives a Bluetooth signal and can display its location on a map through the “Search” app.

When not in the vicinity to “detect each other” via Bluetooth, devices use “Find My Network” technology to transmit their location through any Apple device, whether ours or someone else’s. Once their location is shared, only the owner can detect the Airtags and show their location on a map through the application used to locate the devices associated with the user’s account.

It is important to take into account that, although Bluetooth technology is standard, this network-based use of any mobile phone or Tablet of any owner is only available on the manufacturer’s own devices. Also, the accuracy of the location displayed on the map may vary depending on the number of devices in the area of coverage and the quality of the Bluetooth signal.

It is clear that this technology offers some advantages to the passenger, once the tracking device is placed in the checked baggage:

  • It helps to locate luggage: If luggage is lost during the flight or at the airport, the device emits a signal that can be detected by other Apple devices, such as iPhones or iPads, that have the “Search” application enabled. This way, users can see the location of the luggage on a map and retrieve it more easily.
  • If traveling in transit, it can help you find out if your baggage was delayed or diverted along the way, sparing you from wasting time at the baggage claim counter once you realize that your luggage did not arrive on your same flight.

As with any innovation, this technology can also carry some inconveniences:

  • Cost: each tracking device has a retail price of about 35 euros. If you travel with several suitcases or make several trips, the cost of acquiring several of these can be significant.
  • It requires a device from the same manufacturer to be able to track the Airtags ourselves, since it is a proprietary technology that is not available to third parties.
  • The tracking device requires the presence of a sufficient number of devices of the same brand along the baggage route when it is far from us in order to be effective. This drawback may be more or less common depending on the country, in addition to the fact that in the automatic baggage handling areas (the so-called BHS or Baggage Handling System), there may be insufficient personnel with mobile phones or data network coverage to be able to receive the location.


Why have some airlines restricted the use of Airtags in checked baggage?

Some airlines have banned, and then re-allowed, the inclusion of these tracking devices in checked baggage due to security concerns. Although they are harmless devices and do not emit any dangerous signals or radiation, some airlines fear that they could be used to track people or for malicious purposes. Also, some airlines fear that they could be used for illegal activities, such as drug trafficking or trafficking of other illegal goods.

However, it is important to note that this ban is not universal and that each airline may have different policies in this regard. Therefore, it is advisable to check the policies of each airline before placing an Airtag in the checked baggage.

There is no doubt that this is a technology that is here to stay and that it will become increasingly widespread. Therefore, it is good to know about its existence, its advantages and disadvantages. It could even become a solution that could be leveraged by the airlines themselves, handling agents or airport managers for multiple activities that could improve their baggage management processes, security or the provision of services for an enhanced passenger experience.



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