Airline backtracks on AirTag ban in checked luggage


Jason Hiner/ZDNET

German carrier Lufthansa has backtracked on a ban it imposed on activated Apple AirTags and other Bluetooth trackers in checked-in luggage due to apparent safety risks.

After rumors circulated last week about Lufthansa’s ban on AirTags, the airline confirmed in a tweet it was “banning activated AirTags from luggage as they are classified as dangerous and need to be turned off”.

AirTags can’t be turned off with a switch. The only way to do it is by removing the battery, which defeats the purpose of AirTags and similar Low Power Bluetooth trackers used for tracking items.

Luggage trackers can be an embarrassment for airlines since passengers can use them to discover their luggage is not on their flight before the plane takes off.

Defending its stance, the airline later tweeted that the ban on AirTags was consistent with guidelines from International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) about the “transmission function” of Bluetooth trackers.

“According to ICAO guidelines, baggage trackers are subject to the dangerous goods regulations. Furthermore, due to their transmission function, the trackers must be deactivated during the flight if they are in checked baggage and cannot be used as a result,” a Lufthansa representative wrote.

However, Lufthansa’s ban and its reasoning for doing so were off mark on several counts.

According to The New York Times, even the ICAO said it is not a regulator and “does not play an oversight role” over the airlines. It just provides guidelines on what passengers may and may not do, while regulators and airlines set policies.

Apple for its part has said AirTags are “compliant with international airline travel safety regulations for carry-on and checked baggage.”

Apple pointed out that ICAO doesn’t have standards for luggage tracking devices, and rather focused its definitions on larger devices — like phones and laptops — that have larger lithium batteries. The US Transportation Security Administration also said that “tracking devices are allowed in both carry-on and checked bags.”

On Wednesday, Lufthansa’s media team finally confirmed in another Twitter statement that it was no longer banning AirTags after checking with the German Aviation Authority.

“The German Aviation Authorities (Luftfahrtbundesamt) confirmed today, that they share our risk assessment, that tracking devices with very low battery and transmission power in checked luggage do not pose a safety risk. With that these devices are allowed on Lufthansa flights.”

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