11 Jan 2023

Holiday headache: Can a GPS tracker help you find your lost luggage?

10:23 am on 11 January 2023
A lone bag sitting on a luggage carousel in an airport.

File photo Photo: Unsplash / Dimitri Karastelev

A number of airlines, including Air New Zealand, have announced they will now allow GPS baggage trackers to be used on flights.

In the last few weeks travellers at Auckland Airport have experienced queues up to three hours long to locate lost luggage.

Passengers have reported seeing piles of unclaimed suitcases covering the floor.

Airports around the world are facing similar problems as travel demand ramps back up after pandemic restrictions were rolled back.

What's going on?

Board of Airline Representatives of New Zealand executive director Cath O'Brien told Morning Report there were a number of reasons why luggage may be lost in the first place.

Travel has become more popular again after slowing down early in the pandemic and some work forces, including ground handlers who take the bag off the plane, have had to be rebuilt from scratch, O'Brien said.

"In New Zealand and Australia in particular those workforces are mostly new people doing the job for the first time this summer in a busy period and doing their best in a very difficult environment."

New Zealand has fewer direct international connections than it used to so travellers coming here have to stop along the way - as do their bags, she said.

"And every time somebody stops and changes airlines, stops in a different country, has a stopover, that's a chance for that bag to be mishandled."

It was a shared issue between airlines, airport staff, ground handlers and agencies like biosecurity, she said.

O'Brien encouraged people to carry important medication and a change of clothes in carry on luggage in case of luggage delays.

Making a bag identifiable with brightly coloured ribbon was also useful, she said.

Should you invest in a baggage tracker?

Air New Zealand has announced it will now allow GPS baggage trackers to be used on its flights.

Tech writer Peter Griffin told Morning Report initially some of the airlines were opposed to their use.

"They put that down to an obscure rule from the International Civil Aviation Organisation which sets global standards for carrying dangerous goods.

"They had classified these tags as personal electronic devices...initially a lot of the airlines said we don't want these going into people's luggage, they could pose a risk."

With the battery in the devices being so low in power, almost all of these airlines have since revised their policies.

Apple AirTags in particular can be very accurate, he said, as they make use of the massive network of Apple products to form a crowd sourced network.

"If you're in an airport, there's a chance there is thousands of Apple devices in there so if there's an AirTag in a piece of luggage that will connect to either another air tag or an iPhone that's nearby and it will upload that location to iCloud and transmit it to the owner of the AirTag.

"It's an incredibly efficient system and the airlines don't like it because they now have a whole load of customers looking at their iPhone saying I know exactly where my bag is, I'm going to call up and demand that they give it to me.

"This is creating a customer service headache for them."

In the past when bags went missing many airlines outsourced the job to courier and logistic companies.

"We had no visibility into that system. Now someone who's lost their bag can see exactly where in the process that bag is at being delivered back to them and some people are not happy about it because it's taking days for that to happen."

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