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AirTags (and other personal tracking devices) make for great headlines when things go sour for a consumer. While AirTags have certainly helped some locate lost or misplaced baggage, they do not address the root causes of baggage mishandling. They do not address issues such as overworked baggage handlers, inadequate baggage tracking systems, and miscommunication between consumers, airlines and airport staff. Personal tracking devices have really cracked open a discourse around the current systems and how poor they can be in baggage management.
Is AirTag a nuisance?
To begin with, the reliance on AirTags shifts the responsibility of finding lost bags onto the consumer, rather than the airline. For the consumer it brings an illusion of being in control of the situation, while in reality no airline will rely on data solely being provided by a consumer and their tracking device. If anything, the AirTag-related back and forth while tracking a lost baggage may actually be distracting resources from doing their job. For some consumers already dealing with general travel related anxieties, I can’t imagine contantly having to look at their baggage moving around in an airport, and not actually “coming towards them”, is helpful. The strories and headlines we read around misplaced baggages going through McDonalds, or sitting in someone’s car are definitely outliers as thousands of baggages make it to their owners without any disruption.
Furthermore, the use of AirTags raises valid privacy concerns as it could potentially allow others to track a person’s movements without their consent. Some airlines are even trying to ban personal tracking devices in checked baggage because they believe that these devices could pose a fire hazard if they are accidentally activated in the cargo hold of an aircraft. They could also pose a security risk as they could potentially be used to track the movements of an aircraft.
Airlines and Airports must improve
The core issue here is baggage management, and the accountibility when systems fail. In the list of complex issues with complex solutions;
- Airlines/Airports must increase staffing levels to ensure that baggage handlers have enough time to properly handle bags. Overworked and underpaid staff helps no one, certainly not the airline.
- Airlines/Airports must invest in advanced baggage tracking systems that can accurately track bags from check-in to arrival.
- Airlines must invest in staff training especially around customer service, as many frustrations stem from ill-informed staff trying to implement poorly designed policies around compensation and passenger support, when bags go missing.
- Airlines must provide real-time updates to passengers regarding the status of their bags to help them track their bags in case they are lost. There is no reason for the consumer to rely on a personal tracking device and take the onus on themselves to ‘inform the airline’.
AirTags and Airlines – What’s the role of Government?
Regulation, regulation, regulation! Not only must Governments monitor in how airlines manage consumer complaints around missed baggage, they can also step in and regulate use of personal tracking devices (if the security issues are substantiated). While regulations are a good start, they dont mean much if enforcement is not swift and consistent. Taking enforcement actions against airlines that violate regulations and consumer protection guidelines, is a must. One of the most important things Governments can do is to position themselves in favour of the consumers – this would help build consumer trust in the system, and bring on better accountibiliity from the airlines.
What can you do?
In its current usage, AirTags are doing more harm than good. They do not resolve the issue, and add further complexity (and frustration) when airlines are unable to use the additional information being volunteered by the consumers. Here are a few things consumers can do to minimize the chances of losing their luggage;
- Fly without checked-in bags; Carry-on only.
- Fly direct routes.
- Do not opt for itinieraries that include less than an hour in layover, or more than 4-5 hours ; very long layovers can also result in luggage being misplaced.
- Purchase good travel insurance (or get a credit card that comes with one) that covers lost luggage and other related items.
Do you use AirTags or other personal tracking devices, and find it helpful? Share your experience with a comment below.