AirTags ban at Lufthansa? The real story.

This is the information that has been the most talked about in the travel community in recent days: Lufthansa has decided to ban Airtags in checked luggage! Well, maybe or maybe not, as the communication of the airline on the subject lacks clarity.

In this article we will go back over this announcement, its justifications and, above all, the deep problem behind it.

Lufthansa bans AirTags for safety reasons

The rumor started at the end of last week and was confirmed by Lufthansa on Twitter: Airtags and other baggage trackers are no longer welcome in the hold for security reasons.

The motivation is quite simple: they are objects containing lithium batteries and emitting signals, so they must be disconnected in the hold. Airtags yes but without their battery. So much so that it takes away all interest from the device.

Lufthansa is only inventing and applying existing regulations, which it would be the only one to do in relation to the tracers, but it doesn’t matter: it has the right to do so, and the most demanding in terms of safety would even say that it has the obligation to.

Indeed the “Dangerous Goods Regulation” of the IATA an imposing document that details precisely what can or cannot be carried on board and under what conditions provides for such cases. It is in the section “Hidden Dangerous Goods” which specifically mentions the case of live lithium batteries.

Some will say that given the size of the battery, its low lithium content and the little energy it uses, this is a totally disproportionate measure for an AirTag, but in essence, IATA effectively prohibits devices such as AirTags in the hold and Lufthansa is only applying the regulations.

On the other hand, the TSA says that AirTags are allowed in the hold and in the cabin.

Who is right? Probably both. There is the law and the spirit of the law, IATA says one thing, the TSA which is not known for its laxity interprets it in its own way but another authority, in another country, could also have its own reading of the subject. And in the end the airline puts what it wants in its conditions of carriage.

An unenforceable measure?

For many this measure is all the more stupid that it is almost impossible to apply. How do I know if a bag contains an AirTag?

First of all, these devices are not subject to any specific search during the baggage security check. Ask the passengers at check-in? They will of course say that their bag does not contain an AirTag. And this poses an even bigger problem: How much of the luggage carried by Lufthansa is checked in by Lufthansa? Think of all the connecting flights where the luggage was checked in by a partner airline, and often not even by airline staff.

This is the feeling that prevailed in public opinion following the airline’s decision: not only is it stupid, but it is also unenforceable.

From our point of view it is not necessarily stupid because it is an application of the regulation, even if it is a rigid application, but it is definitely unenforceable. So a little bit stupid? In any case, considering the noise generated, it seems that the airline realized that it had opened a Pandora’s box that it could have done without.

What does a passenger risk if he puts an AirTag in his luggage?

Even though it is a case of strict enforcement of regulations, Lufthansa is still allowed to decide what can and cannot be carried in the hold and can even go beyond the regulations if it wishes.

Based on the famous principle that you don’t risk anything as long as you don’t get caught, the passenger who would violate this rule would risk absolutely nothing unless the airline would realize that his luggage is equipped with a tracer, AirTag or other.

For example, by scanning with a Bluetooth device the contents of the hold, removing the luggage concerned and, in this case, making the passengers concerned pay a penalty for having made the flight late? Why not!

What if an AirTag was involved in a cargo fire? Certainly.

What does the passenger risk? This could range from severe penalties to refusing to board or even being blacklisted by the airline in the future.

Disproportionate? We can think so. Possible ? Yes. Likely? Certainly not, but everyone is free to decide to play by the rules or not.

Lufthansa changes its position on AirTags

It did not take long for Lufthansa to clarify its position by radically changing its approach. On Tuesday, a Lufthansa spokesman said that the airline was “in close contact with the relevant authorities to find a solution as soon as possible” then that “The Lufthansa Group has carried out its own risk assessment, as a result of which tracking devices with very low battery levels and transmission power in checked baggage do not pose a security risk,.” […]”We have never banned such devices.. The authorities should adapt the rules that currently limit the use of these devices for airline passengers in checked baggage..”

To put it another way, Lufthansa wanted to ban AirTags, found a legal reason to do so and, given the outcry, backed down, but given the justifications they had given, they needed a little help to get by without looking ridiculous.

Which brings us to the real question: why did Lufthansa want to ban AirTags in the hold?

The AirTag ban: a great diversion but not a solution to the problem

There are two things you must have heard. The first is that in recent months there have been numerous flight delays and cancellations and lost luggage, especially in Europe. The second is that there are many stories of people finding lost luggage with an AirTag. This explains why the number of passengers who put AirTags in their luggage has skyrocketed.

Causing an increase in flight safety risks? Not at all. Embarrassing the airlines about their failures and those of their handlers? Totally.

Overnight, many passengers started to worry that their luggage was not in the hold when the plane was about to leave. This can lead to interrupting the departure procedure, it over-solicits the crews (and sometimes wrongly) and we can understand that the airlines just want to buy themselves some peace. The baggage may be lost but they won’t have 10 passengers harassing the crew before the flight even leaves.

This is what I call the FlightRadar24 syndrome. Many times I have personally followed on this very practical application the route of the plane in flight to my point of departure and that I would take afterwards. And when, for example, my flight has to leave Barcelona at 3pm and only leaves Paris at 2:15pm, I know it will be late.

Where it starts to get amusing or problematic depending on the point of view you take is when the passengers will address the person at the boarding gate.

  • “the flight will be late, what do we do for my connection, do you know when we will leave”.
  • “calm down there is no delay and the flight is still scheduled on time”.

At this moment the passenger has the impression that he is being taken for a fool and the agent has his back to the wall because not only does he have no answer to give, but he has no information from the airline at this time telling him that the incoming flight is late, let alone what time the other flight will leave.

The problem is not the AirTag or FlightRadar24! It is the fact that the passenger can have information before the airline staff and that this inevitably creates tensions.

If you want an excellent example, read my misadventure with TAP when I was the only one to know where my suitcase was and because of the lack of information from the staff it ended up being stolen at the airport even though I was the only one to know that it had been taken back to Paris.

But the solution, in our opinion, is not to forbid the use of certain technologies to passengers but to give the personnel on board and on the ground the same level of information, at the same time and to train them to react.

Bottom line

Lufthansa wanted to ban AirTags in checked luggage to avoid conflict situations with passengers. Given the outcry that this provoked, it hastened to backtrack, but given that it invoked a regulatory reason, it now has to justify that it is finally possible not to apply the IATA rules strictly.

In the meantime, this is not enough to hide the real problem: the passenger is often better informed and earlier than the agents he is dealing with and it is this that really bothers the airlines.

And Lufthansa unintentionally generated a bad buzz that it could have done without.

Photo: Lufthansa flags by Wirestock Creators via Shutterstock

Bertrand Duperrin
Bertrand Duperrin
Compulsive traveler, present in the French #avgeek community since the late 2000s and passionate about (long) travel since his youth, Bertrand Duperrin co-founded Travel Guys with Olivier Delestre in March 2015.

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