Review: Apple AirTag – Will it Help You Recover Your Lost Luggage?

10 minutes

Every now and then, there is a great travel accessory that really enhances your travel. I’ve usually been suspect of technological fads, but really came to understand the value of Apple AirTag’s and their ability to track checked luggage. An Apple AirTag can be strategically placed in your suitcase and offer a peace of mind comfort guarantee of the whereabouts of your checked luggage. Read on to see how the system works and our live experience with it when dealing with lost luggage.

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Review: Apple AirTag – Will it Help You Recover Your Lost Luggage?

Apple Computers introduced Apple AirTags as part of their technology launch on April 30, 2021. Over the previous two years, they have developed a bit of a niche travel following.

What is an Apple Air Tag?

An Apple AirTag is a small tracking device that Apple has scaled down to be consumer friendly. It allows for near GPS like tracking of objects it’s affixed to. It connects to the grid by using the data links of other iPhones, Ipads and Apple Computers within the area, in order to report a location back to it’s home user on the Apple Find my Friends network.

The program is set up to allow for locating lost devices. It offers the ability to sound a “ping” or mark and object as lost – pending recovery. All of these features make it ideal for putting Apple AirTag’s in suitcases. However, does it actually work?

Installing an Apple Air Tag:

It’s exceptionally easy installing an Apple AirTag. After ordering them through the Air Canada Aeroplan e-store, they arrived to my household doorstep.

The Apple AirTags installation process involved activative the CR2052 battery, and pairing the device to your iCloud account through Bluetooth.

Like everything technology oriented these days, the product doesn’t come with any instructions. However, it’s pretty easy to locate what you need to do online with a little research. I was able to complete the pairing process inside about ten minutes. As part of the registration process, I had to complete terms and conditions along with legal notices that it is illegal for unauthorized tracking of persons not associated to you.

Once it is set up, it’s “set and forget”. It requires no ongoing maintenance and runs completely in the background. Aside from a battery change, there isn’t much more that needs to happen in order to maintain the tracking of the object.

Setting the Stage:

Losing my Luggage “in Real Time”:

It seems to be the state of the travelling world when the very first time you try out an Apple AirTag, you end up losing your checked luggage.

On a recent trip from Vancouver to Ottawa, I ended up checking a pair of downhill skis and a medium standard sized suitcase that contained all my ski equipment including helmet, ski boots and ski clothing.

On my flights back, which was on an Air Canada Ottawa – Toronto – Vancouver routing, I had intentionally built myself a comfortable two hour and fifteen minute connection tine at Toronto Pearson International Airport.

On the day of travel, I ended up with a late departure from Ottawa due to the late arrival on the inbound aircraft. My comfortable two hour and fifteen minute connection at Toronto Pearson went down to fifty five minutes.

As I landed off my first flight leg in Toronto, I had an expedited walk from one end of Toronto Pearson’s Terminal One airport to the other end. As I managed to get on board my next flight, I checked into the app to get updated on the progress of my luggage. I would end up finding that my bag was located somewhere in the middle of the terminal while I was seated on the outer end of the terminal on board the aircraft (represented by the purple “X”).

The location finder on the app isn’t super conclusive on whether your bags are with you. However, there was enough there at the time of push back to suggest that my luggage “was not with me” and was likely sitting somewhere in the terminal in Toronto Pearson International Airport.

It’s worth noting that the AirTags do not report a live stream of their location. You won’t happen to see the Air Tag move like an object on a video games screen. Rather, you just get a general location as to where your items are located.

Confirming my Bags are Actually Missing:

When I landed at Vancouver International Airport after my transcontinental flight, I popped open the iPhone “Find My” app again. It took a little while for the system to update itself after travelling some two thousand miles.

When the system did refresh, it displayed my luggage 3,353 kilometres away at Toronto Pearson International Airport Terminal One. Clearly, my bags were unofficially lost. I’d learn about this as soon as I de-planed and walked into the concourse at the Vancouver International Airport. As a result, I would find out within five to ten minutes of touching down at Vancouver International Airport; a pretty good result.

Clearly, having an Apple AirTag can help you almost immediately identify that the checked bag (or item) is not with you and where the likely location is.

Reporting the Bag as Lost:

On receipt of this news, I wandered down to the Vancouver International Domestic Arrivals Hall and queued up at the Baggage Services desk. There was a short line during my visit. What’s even more concerning is that there is also a priority line for Air Canada Super Elites; a telling circumstance of how many bags are being lost.

Once I got to the front, the host verifying my information through the Apple AirTag. She asked how long it was since the Air Tag last refreshed and opened my ticket for the lost luggage.

For anyone that’s ever lost a piece of luggage, the airline tracing systems aren’t super helpful. They contain inspiring messages such as “Tracing Continues. Please Check Back Later

I went home with my carry on bags and settled in for the evening. Given that there were no additional flights leaving Toronto for Vancouver that evening, I was pretty content that I’d get some information the next day.

The Next Day:

Learning my Bag was En Route Home:

The next morning, I woke up. It was a weekend day and I was at home and not in the office. As a result, I had a bit more time to devote to this electronic search than would otherwise have been the case.

Checking into the “Find My” app, I learned that my bag had likely been loaded onto an Air Canada flight from Toronto to Vancouver. My bag was reported to be “last seen today at 4:59 AM“, with what appeared to be a location matching an outer gate area on the Toronto Pearson International Airport Terminal One.

I had to do a little reverse engineering, but I reconstructed the flight schedules and determined that the bag was likely travelling on two possible Air Canada Toronto – Vancouver flights and would likely be arriving to Vancouver between 10 – 11 AM Pacific Standard Time. I event went so far as to determine whether these two flights had matching gate departure location from the the airport terminal on that morning. Not wholly conclusive, but pretty likely to be expected.

Learning that the Bag is in Vancouver:

After checking on a repeated basis throughout the morning, the bag turned up on the grid at Vancouver International Airport. Unlike the imagery from the arrival night, the bag was showing up at the baggage processing facility at Vancouver International Airport.

There is certainly a bit of a thrill, when you see your bag on what is likely a luggage cart in the middle of the Vancouver International Airport apron (pictured on right). If not a thrill, it’s a relief that it’s another task off the list that you won’t have to keep worrying about.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the AC Baggage Tracer system was still lagging and showing the bag as missing with “Tracing Continues – Please Check Back Later“.

I ended up hopping in the car and driving to the Vancouver International Airport. I was headed there anyway to collect MrsWT73 from another trip, so I was hoping to kill two birds with one stone.

Locating my Luggage on a Tracking Basis:

On arrival to the Vancouver International Airport, I ended up using the tracking feature in the Apple AirTag in order to get re-united with my lost luggage. Coming in from the Vancouver International Airport parkade, it was reasonably easy to locate my luggage using the features in the iPhone “Find My” app.

The maps even contained a GPS blue dot representing your own location. It was pretty easy to navigate towards and I had no challenges getting into the immediate area of the lost checked bag.

The closer you got, the screen changed to a “Hot” vs “Cold” searching feature. Ideally, this would pin point you to the exact location. In my case, i was in a baggage hall with dozens of similar looking black bags. It wasn’t an exact science, but I eventually got to within a meter or two and was able to figure it out.

In the end, the trick worked. i was able to locate my black medium Briggs and Riley bag sitting on a stopped conveyor belt in the domestic arrivals hall at Vancouver International Airport. As I said, while it wasn’t an exact science, but with a little patience, I was able to search and find what I was looking for.

I examined the bag and noted that the airline hadn’t re-tagged it onto it’s newer flight. It still contained the baggage routing tag from my earlier flight.

Clearly, Air Canada hadn’t gotten around to updating the bags that hadn’t been re-united with their travellers. I ended up just picking up the bag. With a courtesy notice to Air Canada that I had re-connected with my luggage, I was on my way much quicker thanks to the Apple AirTag.

When using the Apple AirTag, the total time lost for my checked bag was 15 hours. I’d imagine it would have been much closer to 36 – 48 hours (and that’s being optimistic) had I left it to the airlines.

While the last time Alaska Airlines lost my checked bag, I received a $200 USD travel voucher for my inconvenience, Air Canada left me with this kind note which left me with nothing but warm feelings (laughing).


My Thoughts Apple AirTags:

The Apple AirTag’s are perhaps not as precise as you might expect them to be. They won’t show the exact moving location as it passes along the baggage conveyor belts of an airport, or the position as it sits on a baggage tug. The Apple AirTag will more or less give you a general idea of where you bag is, and it is indeed possible that the AirTag may provide a few false positives along the way.

Despite this, I clearly got reconnected with my bag in a faster time than leaving it strictly to Air Canada to process and locate my tracked bag. By using a little detective work, I was able to reconnect myself to my lost luggage much quicker than expected. I’d become a happy user of this feature, as it takes nothing to have them installed in your checked luggage and costs nothing to use.

If you travel with checked baggage, do you find that using an Apple AirTag enhances your travel experience ?

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