The short of it:
If you have an iPhone*, I recommend you have Apple AirTags™ in each piece of your luggage, in your handbag/backpack, any bag you travel with, before you board your next travel transportation.
*(Actually, Apple Watch or iPad or iPod Touch, too.)
If you are using Android or another phone OS, I still recommend a tracker but this article is only about AirTags.
Chances are that if you were considering travel in 2022, you heard about the issues with lost luggage. Apple had released the AirTag in April 2021 and many Apple users were enjoying their uses. But the word about AirTag benefits really exploded as the need — or desire — to not lose your luggage became a serious issue as soon as travel reopened.
The AirTag is so good that it knew more than the airlines. People were able to go to the location Apple’s Find My app displayed and go directly to their missing luggage.
Are you thinking that airlines typically do a great job of tracking luggage so you don’t need to worry now that the staffing shortage and rush are over? That could be true. But… remember when you needed to show your luggage ticket to leave the airport? Have you noticed they don’t do that anymore? Your luggage may fly to the correct destination but will you be the person traveling onward with it?
How the AirTag works
People always want to know how the AirTag works. (I sure did.)
Apple actually does a good job of showing you and explaining it. I’ve made my living elaborating on tech instructions but don’t see much to add here. I recommend reading the overview to help you decide about buying them and to understand what you’re getting.
→Apple’s AirTag Overview: AirTag, Lose your knack for losing things.
Next, once you have your AirTag and are ready to start using it, I recommend reading Apple’s AirTag Setup Instructions.
→Apple’s article: Set up your AirTag using your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch
AirTag locations are seen because you have Location Services turned on. Here is Apple’s article on understanding Location Services. But this is an article that lacks so I’ll fill you in on Precise Location.
Find My is an app where Precise Location shines and comes in incredibly handy. It will help you find people (who let you), your Apple hardware, and your AirTag items. If it’s available to you, I strongly recommend turning it on. With it, you can even see which side of the street a person or item is on! It will certainly help you find your luggage. (Or a stolen item.) I’m told that it can locate a specific room and even part of a room at an airport.
As Apple tells you, on the iPhone, go to Settings -> Privacy & Security -> Location Services.
Tap the line that says Location Services to see your settings for it.
Now you can turn it on if it’s not on by some chance. But more importantly, every app that you have granted Location Services permission shows there.
Scroll down to Find My. Then tap the line that says Find My.
This is where you can see if you have Precise Location and whether it is on or not for that app.
Precision Finding is compatible with iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, iPhone 11 Pro Max, iPhone 12, iPhone 12 mini, iPhone 12 Pro, iPhone 12 Pro Max, iPhone 13, iPhone 13 mini, iPhone 13 Pro, iPhone 13 Pro Max, iPhone 14, iPhone 14 Plus, iPhone 14 Pro, and iPhone 14 Pro Max. (This is written in 2022 as the iPhone 14 is the current model.)
→Apple’s page about the Find My app.
Since you’ll be traveling, I should add that you don’t need internet for your AirTags to work. The “finding” is done via Bluetooth of all passing-by Apple devices and is anonymous and encrypted to protect your privacy.However, you will need internet to show you where your item is. That can be your Apple device or a log-in to iCloud in any browser.
Don’t worry: AirTags discourage unwanted tracking
You may have heard stories of people being tracked for nefarious reasons. You won’t have that worry. Quoting Apple on that overview page:
“AirTag is designed to discourage unwanted tracking. If someone else’s AirTag finds its way into your stuff, your iPhone will notice it’s traveling with you and send you an alert. After a while, if you still haven’t found it, the AirTag will start playing a sound to let you know it’s there.
Of course, if you happen to be with a friend who has an AirTag, or on a train with a whole bunch of people with AirTag, don’t worry. These alerts are triggered only when an AirTag is separated from its owner.”
AirTags are durable!
[I’m adding this heading and image on February 13, 2023.] A few days ago someone showed me his AirTag. This AirTag was and is on his keychain, which fell out of his back pocket as a car service dropped him off near-ish to his job. Later in the day, he realized his keys were not in his pocket, so he checked his Find My app and went to retrieve them. The keychain and AirTag were in the road, and had been run over by at least one car in the hours before he retrieved them. Yes, he still uses it. It works perfectly fine. Remember, it told him where it was! Where his keys were. Otherwise lost on some road.
I tried to get a photo without reflection so you could see the damage or lack thereof.
You CAN take AirTags on an Airplane. They are not a danger to planes.
AirTag batteries are easily replaced. The AirTag contains a common, user-replaceable CR2032 coin-cell battery.
Some stories of what AirTags can do for you
In this June 8, 2022 article, Lost luggage? Apple’s AirTags to the Rescue Kevin Lisota leads with these words:
As a traveling photographer, the easiest way to ruin a trip is for the airline to lose your luggage. I checked one bag on my recent two-week trip to Spain that didn’t arrive when I did. Luckily, I had outfitted my bag with an Apple AirTag, which allowed me to retrieve my bag quickly, despite airline incompetence.
I recommend a device like the AirTag or similar for traveling photographers to improve your chances of luggage recovery.
The Points Guy tells his own story about an AirTag locating his skis when an airline had it wrong. Vacation saved. The Points Guy is a great website for travelers who wish to maximize their airline miles/points and that article is here:
The airline couldn’t find my luggage — here’s how Apple AirTags saved the day
by Ross Feinstein, July 15, 2022
And here are a few personal happy user stories.
- Flying from Europe to the US, while on the plane of our first leg, our AirTags reported our luggage was not in the plane. That flight had been delayed and we had to pick up our bags when we landed in the states, so we were likely going to miss our connecting flight. Knowing our bags were not on the flight, as soon as we got through immigration we found an agent who confirmed this and advised us to file a claim at our final destination. The upside was that not having to wait in vain for our luggage — thanks to AirTags — we made the connecting flight.
We filed the claim. Over the next four days, we were able to track our bags. They remained stationary, 3,500 miles away. I got a nightly text from United telling me “We’re still working on locating your delayed baggage.” I was unable to reach an actual person. On day 4, we saw the bags were being loaded onto a charter flight. We lost them when they were on the plane but as soon as they landed, we were able to track them again, right up to delivery the following day.
- They lost my bag. The AirTag not just how I was able to find it. Seeing the app’s map convinced staff to let me back in the airport to retrieve the bag when no agent from my airline was there to take me back.
- Her bag was removed from the carousel
I was waiting at the carousel for my bags but they weren’t coming out. When I checked, the app told me they were right next me. Turns out someone had removed my bag from the carousel and they were just sitting off to the side. I would not have found them so easily if it wasn’t for them.
- Our bags were lost by Air France. We could not reach the airline at all. AirTags were only way we knew what was going on with our bags.
- My daughter had to run for her connection in Lisbon and we were concerned her bag wouldn’t make it. When she checked, she could see it had made it — a nice peace of mind.
- My daughter flew direct internationally. She didn’t have to worry about loss during connecting flight transfer — but her bag was mistakenly taken by an elderly lady. Her phone number was on the bag. However, her family didn’t notice the error. Because we could track the bag, we found someone to go to the building and a nice resident hung up a flyer saying we had a bag missing. Long story short, after two long days we were notified that someone took it by a mistake and we got the bag back.
- I just used them on an Alaska cruise. On every excursion, I was informed that I had left 2 bags behind, last seen at whatever dock we had moored at. We loved knowing the AirTags were working.
An AirTag to find your rental car
Have you ever rented a car while traveling, parked it, and had to think hard to recall what model and color it was so you could find it? Place an AirTag somewhere in that car, but not where you won’t be able to find it. Name it so you can identify it in Find My. Now, you’ll be able to go directly to your rental car. Just be sure to set a Reminder or make a note to remove that AirTag from the rental before you leave it.
I have an AirTag hidden in my own car. With my iPhone 13 and precise location on, when I open Find My and tap Items (as with luggage or your keychain), then tap Car (that’s what I named it) and zoom in on my car, I actually see which side of the street it is parked on. This is a bonus when you have alternate-side-of-the-street parking.
Consider it a $29 Easy Insurance Policy
I hope that as you travel you don’t have luggage issues. However, at $29 for one and about $90 for a 4-pack, AirTags are a great insurance policy.
- Apple Watch with iOS8 or iOS9 (as far as I can tell), iPad or iPod Touch with OS 14.5 or later
I need this! Not just for travel!
…. thank you for the active insight as to your active use of Air Tags: I’ve just gotten a set that is compatible with my Samsung smartphone, and look forward to trying them out. I can pack for two weeks using a hanging bag and a duffle and no longer check luggage, as it had become such a nightmare tracking my bags as they travelled around the world.
And i am really looking forward to keeping one in the car and on my bicycle as well: do you find that you have issues with keeping the Air Tags actively charged?
AirTags have a one-year battery in them. And then you just replace the battery. User-replaceable, a common coin battery that I have purchased (for other things) in other countries. It’s great that you are doing carry-on only! It’s so much easier and so freeing!
My 4-pack of AirTags just arrived! One for my purse, one for my backpack and one for my wheelie. Still trying to decide about the fourth. I don’t drive, but what a great idea about the rental car! Maybe I will just pop it into my husband’s car. Hmm, I wonder if there’s a way to place it in the catalytic converter of a Prius. There has been a rash of thefts of those…
The catalytic converter AirTag would be brilliant! I suspect it would get too hot there. Now I can’t resist looking into that. :) You could put one in your wallet. That way if you get pick-pocketed, you’d find the wallet. And the wallet is typically in your purse (aka handbag). My AirTag is in my wallet (which is a coin purse since I’m minimal). If you carry a separate computer bag, the 4th can be in there. Maybe redundant but that’s what I’ve done. Or, just hold onto it for now, and don’t activate that 4th one.
I love that I can actually see what side of the street my car is on for street sweeping hours.