Welcome to AFAR Approved: a deep dive into the travel items that we’re totally obsessed with, never leave behind, and can’t stop telling our friends about.
I’m staunchly on Team Checked Bag. I like not worrying about finding overhead bin space or bringing my suitcase into questionable bathroom stalls. It’s also a free perk on many of my travel credit cards, so why not take advantage of it?
That being said, I’m also serially unlucky when it comes to my bag actually making it to the baggage carousel. Already this year, my bag has been misplaced or left behind on four flights (one of which was on a holiday weekend in Europe, so it took three days before it was located and returned to me).
Considering Fourth of July weekend was projected to be a hellish mess and I would be traveling from Colorado to Alaska on an airline that had recently canceled a slew of flights and is in the midst of a possible strike, I decided it would be worth testing out the Apple AirTag to track my luggage, if for no other reason than peace of mind.
Apple AirTag review for travelers
How it works
Apple’s AirTag is a Bluetooth tracking device meant to help the user locate easily loseable items, such as keys, wallets, or bags. The disc-shaped, quarter-sized tracker can either be tucked into a pocket or attached with the purchase of an optional key fob and is tracked through Apple’s Find My network (just like the iPhone, Apple Watch, and AirPods). It can also play a tone and has Precision Finding (an on-screen feature that uses directional arrows and the distance between the phone and the AirTag) for easier locating.
Road test: pros and cons
During my initial test of the AirTag, I flew from Denver, Colorado, to Ketchikan, Alaska, with a layover in Seattle, Washington.
Word to the wise: Make sure your phone has the latest software update before trying to sync your AirTag. Since I picked up my AirTag at a Target en route to the airport (and cut it close to the bag drop-off time), I spent a few tense minutes waiting for the update to finish so I could sync the device. However, actually setting up the AirTag was fairly simple. My iPhone immediately recognized there was an unpaired device nearby and gave some quick on-screen prompts to finish the process.
As the airline employee handed me the checked bag tag, she said that I would see it again in Alaska, but with the AirTag, I could see where my suitcase was in more or less real time within the Find My app.
Because the AirTag works on the Find My network, its location is pinpointed by its proximity to other Apple devices (using end-to-end encryption, so nobody else knows the place or identity of your AirTag). The more densely populated an area, the faster and more reliable the updates. In the busy Denver and Seattle airports, the location of my checked bag was updated roughly every minute or two. Because it was never far from another Apple device, I saw it snake its way through multiple terminals before being loaded onto a truck and driven around the airport’s perimeter. And just as I boarded the plane for the first leg of my journey, it did, too. Even in the air (and in airplane mode), I could see that my suitcase was soaring over the west coast and Alaska panhandle.
However, in the tiny Ketchikan airport (we’re talking fewer than five gates), the location of my bag didn’t update from the time we landed until it was spit out on the conveyor belt—there just weren’t any other Apple products in its vicinity to ping off of.
Because I’d gone to Alaska for a fishing trip, I was bringing home roughly 50 pounds of frozen seafood. Considering the fish was extremely perishable, I was extra worried about it making the plane. So I attached the AirTag to the cooler for the return trip. Being able to check (and double- and triple-check) that it wasn’t being forgotten on the hot tarmac allowed me to rest easier. I could also see it providing extra relief for pet parents who are checking a larger animal in baggage.
There are some other notable cons, however. First, it’s only possible to use with Apple products (sorry, Android people). It also doesn’t have a built-in key ring hole, so you’ll either have to stash it in the bag or purchase a holder separately. That being said, I’d still put the device in the bag—it’d be all too easy for someone to remove it or for a conveyor belt to hoover it up.
While sure, American, United, and Delta all have luggage tracking apps, they’re not updated in real time like the AirTag is, and there’s room for human error. For a little additional peace of mind, an AirTag is worth it—it’s fairly accurate and reliable. I’ve already added it to my master packing list, so it’ll for sure be coming on all upcoming trips. I’m even a little excited to see how it performs when my bag is inevitably lost.