What can we learn from Lufthansa’s AirTag fiasco?

  • October 18, 2022
  • Steve Rogerson

Steve Rogerson looks at Lufthansa’s self-inflicted PR disaster when it tried to ban AirTags.

I was worried this month when the news broke that German airline Lufthansa had decided to ban passengers from using Apple AirTags in their checked luggage. As someone who has recently invested in an AirTag and is planning on flying Lufthansa next month to Electronica in Munich, I was more than a little miffed.

My decision to go for an AirTag followed a rather disastrous return journey from Embedded World in Nuremberg back in June when some combination of British Airways and Lufthansa managed to lose my luggage, and only managed to get it back to me around two weeks later.

The first opportunity to test how good AirTags were came with my trip to Chicago at the end of August, returning early September. I promised you in my earlier blog about my luggage problems to up date you on what happened on that trip, and this seems a good opportunity to do so.

Well, I won’t bore you with details, but it worked. I could see at Heathrow my bag in the same place as the plane at departure and that it had arrived at Chicago at the same time as me. I even knew when it was about to appear on the belt. I had similar success a couple of weeks later when I travelled to Singapore.

What I don’t know is what I would have done if the tag had shown my bag was not there or if it showed it was there but never appeared on the luggage carousel. I guess I have that joy to look forward to.

A prime candidate for this is my trip next month to Electronica with Lufthansa. This airline has been causing waves all over the place with its unilateral decision to ban AirTags, a decision it has since reversed but its initial knee-jerk reaction and subsequent U-turn seemed to mirror the procedural incompetence of the early days of the Liz Truss administration in the UK.

So let’s look back at what actually happened.

Lufthansa said passengers would have to turn off their trackers in baggage stored in the hold because they were not allowed under international guidelines, due both to the transmission technology and the batteries. There are no guidelines that ban such trackers and all other airlines seem quite happy with them. Apple itself came out and said the devices complied with all guidelines.

German aviation authorities also jumped into the fray saying that such devices with low battery and transmission power were perfectly OK in checked baggage. There was no safety risk.

German newspapers and television suggested the real reason for the ban might be Lufthansa’s embarrassment at passengers using them to find their own luggage that the airline had lost.

Under pressure from all sides, Lufthansa eventually gave up and announced it had lifted the ban.

Now, we all know how important it is to make sure technology operates safely, especially in industries such as air transportation. But come on guys! People have been using Bluetooth LE devices on planes now for a long time. The trackers use the same BLE technology as wireless headphones, which are allowed on flights. I thought the days were behind us when people and companies exhibited this kind of technophobia.

All one can hope is that the management at Lufthansa has learned its lesson and will in the future do at least some research before coming out with such nonsense. But I am not holding my breath.