back to article Lufthansa bans Apple AirTags on checked bags

Lufthansa over the weekend said it is banning Apple AirTags from checked bags, only to subsequently attribute the policy to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). In a statement posted to its Twitter account, the German air carrier responded to a request to address reports that Lufthansa has banned AirTags from …

  1. Drishmung

    Attracting unwanted attention

    There has already been much speculation that it is Lufthansa's apparent predilection for losing temporarily misplacing customers' baggage and poor handling of this that has prompted the ban. Since the reasons cited for the ban so far are obviously specious, any attempts to find some strict interpretation of the rules which does justify a ban are not going to work in their favour.

    The sane, and reputational damage limiting response, is to reverse the ban ASAP, because otherwise this is going to blow up all over the Internet (I mean, more so even than it has already). Otherwise, very, very soon we'll be seeing BBC segments looking at how often Lufthansa mislays baggage, and RyanAir running ads saying that at least they aren't as bad as Lufthansa :)

    1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      Re: Attracting unwanted attention

      In my experiences with Lufthansa they really should accept all the help they can get. Not only do bags miss flights, LH agents often can't even get accurate information about where the bags are.

      1. ThatOne Silver badge

        Re: Attracting unwanted attention

        > LH agents often can't even get accurate information about where the bags are.

        Isn't that the very definition of "losing baggage"?

        1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

          Re: Attracting unwanted attention

          Not quite. We had an LH flight to FRA that was delayed, and then the connection to CPH was cancelled due to bad weather. LH put us up in a hotel in FRA for the night, with an assurance that we would be on the CPH flight the next morning.

          At check-in I asked about our bags and was told that they were in FRA and would be loaded onto our new CPH flight.

          In CPH we learned that one bag was still in FRA, but the other was still in our original departure airport, not even having made the first flight. None was in CPH with us. It took LH three more days to finally get our bags to us, in yet another city. Not just 'lost' baggage, but incorrect information about how lost it was!

      2. Joe W Silver badge

        Re: Attracting unwanted attention

        Noone can do that with the system they have in place. They will be able to tell you it was not on your plane (d'oh, really?). The agents can tell you the last known location of the bag - most likely the airport. It is unlikely it went on another plane. The bag will be at your dorstep the next day or so. I usually got contacted with "oh, yeah, we know where the bag is" - "we'll put it on the nex flight" - "it is here at the local airport, the courier will contact you" (both SK and LH)

        I had that problem regularly because of the very tight connection FRA - OSL - BGO. The bag needs to pass customs (as does the pax), and you or your bag regularly miss your flight. You get rebooked, drink a few glasses of wine in the lounge, the bag arrives on another plane, a courier will bring it to you.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Attracting unwanted attention

          > I had that problem regularly because of the very tight connection FRA - OSL - BGO. The bag needs to pass customs (as does the pax)

          There have been no customs checks between Frankfurt and Oslo for over twenty years (both Schengen and EEA countries) and unless the Vestlanders have seceded, there are no customs between Oslo and Bergen either.

    2. Pete 2 Silver badge

      Re: Attracting unwanted attention

      > Lufthansa mislays baggage, and RyanAir running ads saying that at least they aren't as bad as Lufthansa :)

      I was under the impression that baggage handling was all done by ground staff employed not by any particular airline, but who were employees of the airport.

      So the same people who "lose" luggage from Lufthansa flights will also be the people who lose them from BA, Ryanair, Quantas and all the rest.

      Maybe people who fly Lufthansa are just noisier and complain louder than Ryanair passengers, who think of a bag that gets sent to the actual city (rather than the airport Ryanair flies people to) is all part of the experience.

      1. Crypto Monad Silver badge

        Re: Attracting unwanted attention

        I thought Ryanair was all point-to-point: no connecting flights and no transfers of baggage.

        These connections are where much of the baggage misrouting takes place.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Attracting unwanted attention

        > I was under the impression that baggage handling was all done by ground staff employed not by any particular airline, but who were employees of the airport.

        It's… complicated.

        Baggage handling is usually done by one or more companies under contract with one or more airlines. And usually those handling companies are owned by the airlines and/or airport operators.

        In turn, some or all of the software and equipment the baggage handling companies use will be subcontracted from other companies, which may in turn be owned by airlines/operators and so on ad nauseam.

        I wouldn't be surprised to find circular references if one were to trace the full chain of ownership of aviation companies.

    3. Blackjack Silver badge

      Re: Attracting unwanted attention

      Apple Airtags can and have been used by stalkers and is very easy to slip one anywhere. I am not saying this is why they are banning them but their lawyers probably will.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Grab the popcorn

    This one should be entertaining. I sincerely don't buy the carriers explanation of why they are cracking down on them now.

    The finer points about how they work matter here, as they transmit a low power Bluetooth signal. It's the receiving devices that relay the signal and location, otherwise a single coin cell couldn't power one very long. cr2032 batteries are button cell batteries, less risk than a good old AA.

    The only issues I could see are with Airtag message spoofing, as a minor but actual security risk. That isn't a safety issue, and the tags method of operation should make it safe on any modern aircraft.

    In reality, banning these is going to open the airports up to bigger embarrassment. Baggage screeners will miss these pretty consistently, which will give the public a very traceable and visible way to pen test airport screeners without fear of getting shot or arrested in the process. When people realize that the screeners miss small tools and weapons just as often they are going to have a litter of kittens.

    This will generate some great data on just how bad the failure/false negative rate actually is.

  3. Sleep deprived
    Happy

    Next on Youtube

    I look forward to the "Lufthansa loses bags" folk song.

  4. yetanotheraoc Silver badge

    How many baggage handlers carry an iPhone?

    "If someone else’s AirTag finds its way into your stuff, your iPhone will notice it’s traveling with you and send you an alert. After a while, if you still haven’t found it, the AirTag will start playing a sound to let you know it’s there." -- https://www.apple.com/airtag/

    That concert could get annoying quick.

    1. I am David Jones

      Re: How many baggage handlers carry an iPhone?

      That’s different I think - it’s the anti-stalking mechanism to detect if someone has slipped their AirTag in your pocket/bag/car. It takes a few hours to trigger so unless they’re actually nicking the bags the handler won’t be troubled.

    2. katrinab Silver badge
      Meh

      Re: How many baggage handlers carry an iPhone?

      I've airtagged my luggage on a couple of British Airways and Iberia flights, and nothing like that happened.

      On check-in, the luggage is away from me for a couple of hours before we both board the plane at different entrances, but not always with the same person. At arrival, there is maybe 30 mins while we take different routes from the plane to the baggage reclaim area, but again, my bag is not always with the same person.

      1. Korev Silver badge
        Terminator

        Re: How many baggage handlers carry an iPhone?

        I flew through Heathrow last month with a bike (ie too big for their normal conveyor belt) and there was an Airtag in the bag. My phone claimed the bike was with me for over quarter of an hour before it was brought into the luggage room. I assume that it was dumped on the side for a while...

  5. Barking mad

    GPS

    AirTags don't have GPS, they use low power Bluetooth to acquire location from nearby iPhone owners. And even if they did have GPS, what is the threat to an aircraft from a GPS receiver? GPS receivers don't transmit. Am I missing something?

    1. Anonymous Coward Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: GPS

      Missing the fact that nobody said that it was anything to do with GPS.

      The article seems to be saying that it's the fact it's a battery powered device which can't be turned off directly that has got Lufthansa's knickers in a twist.

      Plus, the AirTag doesn't "acquire location from <whatever>" - it just sends its own identifier, then the nearby apple device appends location data before sending that message to Apple servers.

      1. mutt13y

        Re: GPS

        Yes, Exactly what I thought. They won't transmit unless they are queried by a nearby device and all nearby devices should be in flight mode.

        1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

          Re: GPS

          ...except for the ones being used by baggage handlers to find all the AirTags, obviously. :)

      2. Wyrdness

        Re: GPS

        "Missing the fact that nobody said that it was anything to do with GPS."

        This sentence in the article, maybe? "This may be where Apple's GPS trackers run afoul of the rules:"

  6. Bubba Von Braun

    Once again facts and fantasies at play

    AirTags use Bluetooth, and last I checked on Lufthansa flights your allowed to use Bluetooth through all phases of flight, as long as the cellular functions are turned off. Yes there is a standing ban on the use of GPS devices, Radio's and TV's in cabin. But as has been pointed out AirTags dont have a GPS.

    Per a Feb 2014 release from the jackbooters themselves.. "Lufthansa, Germany's biggest airline, said Thursday it will allow passengers to use a range of mobile electronic devices in flight on all Airbus aircraft starting from next month. The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) agreed in November to allow the use of personal electronic devices such as tablets, smartphones, e-readers and mp3 players in all phases of flight."

    Lets hope they train their pilots better than they do their policy makers as this is a plane crash in the making.

    BvB

    1. Pete 2 Silver badge

      Re: Once again facts and fantasies at play - once again

      The article says that the issue is that the batteries in airtags contain Lithium and that the devices cannot be turned off.

      It has nothing to do with GPS or bluetooth interference. Just plain old fashioned chemistry. The same as the rules that prohibit mercury thermometers from being carried in the hold.

      Maybe it is nothing but security theatre. However, it seems to me that there are more nonsensical rules applied to passengers than this.

  7. DS999 Silver badge
    Facepalm

    For their next act

    They will ban the "shock indicator" tags people traveling with / shipping stuff of a fragile/expensive nature sometimes pack inside the suitcase/box, because they will expose baggage handlers who reserve their roughest treatment for anything marked "fragile".

    Come to think of it, Apple could include the MEMS hardware from an iPhone in an Air Tag and it could serve double duty. Not sure how much that hardware costs, but if it adds too much to the BOM they can market ones so enhanced as Air Tag Pro. I would definitely pay extra to pack one of those with my golf clubs when I travel with them so if they are damaged I know where and when it happened and thus have proof when filing a complaint with the airlines.

    1. MyffyW Silver badge

      Re: For their next act

      Narrator : My bag, was it ticking?

      Airport Security Officer : Actually throwers don't worry about ticking 'cause modern bombs don't tick.

      Narrator : Sorry, throwers?

      Airport Security Officer : Baggage handlers. But, when a suitcase vibrates, then the throwers gotta call the police.

      Narrator : My suitcase was vibrating?

      Airport Security Officer : Nine times out of ten it's an electric razor, but every once in a while...

      [whispering]

      Airport Security Officer : it's a dildo. Of course it's company policy never to, imply ownership in the event of a dildo... always use the indefinite article a dildo, never your dildo.

      Narrator : I don't own...

      [Officer waves Narrator off]

  8. bazza Silver badge

    Security?

    Could be related to aviation security? There is a whole hidden world for one's baggage to travel through after check in, all sorts of paraphernalia involved. Perhaps the real reason is that active baggage tags are potentially a way to map out that world, see where your bag is. Perhaps that's what they don't want to happen?

    I've no idea why that could be so, but I'd not be surprised. One thing that indicates against this is that it's an airline not an airport that is insisting on it.

    I think it probably is related to the placement of active transmitting electronics in the hold, much as the article muses over towards its end.

    Though we have seen freight aircraft brought down by lithium batteries coin cells catching fire. It takes only one duff battery to set a fire, its then all about what's around it to fuel it that decides whether the plane can land in time. A pallet of coin cells is a real problem likely to down aircraft quickly (as has already happened). A ordinary hold fire is supposed to be survivable, but its not something you want with long over water legs of a journey....

    1. that one in the corner Silver badge

      Hidden World

      Mapping that hidden world would be limited by the density of active iPhones behind the scenes, which I'd guess at being pretty low. Certainly for major airports with robot baggage handlers (insert joke about solidarity with their Android brethren).

  9. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

    Easy fix

    Add a feature where the tracker can be disabled for a specific amount of time by the owner. You check in your bag and show that you've disabled it until after the plane lands. End of argument.

    The might technically be interference from the CPU clock and the Bluetooth IF tuner stage. If it has a 32Khz clock while it sleeps it wouldn't be any different from everyone's wristwatch. Considering how long a tracker runs on a battery, 400 of them put together doesn't likely amount to much.

    The simpler answer is that the trackers are difficult to find before stealing luggage. They'd be even harder to find if they were temporarily sleeping.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Easy fix

      I think the easiest fix is being applied now: calling Lufthansa policy makers out for the morons they are.

      How the heck do you switch off an Airtag? You have to disassble it to remove the battery, which means you then have plenty batteries floating around, just waiting for a short circuit and so start a fire. Secondly, show me the EVIDENCE (you know, facts) that a low enerygy v5 Bluetooth signal can influence anything, because if it does I no longer want to travel with them as it's emitted by almost everything electronic - and is otherwise allowed during flight.

      No, there are no technical reasons to do so. If they don't have the balls to mention the real reason they deserve all the derision heaped on them and then some.

      And even fewer passengers.

  10. Headley_Grange Silver badge

    But...

    I suspect that they are more concerned about passenger management. What happens when a bunch of passengers refuse to get on a flight or refuse to sit down on the aircraft cos their trackers show that their bags are half a mile away after the baggage has been loaded? It could case flights to be delayed or cancelled. For the airlines that are particularly crap at this then maybe they'd deserve what they get and it might nudge them into improving, but shit happens and sometimes the ground handling problems aren't always the airlines' fault.

    1. DS999 Silver badge

      Re: But...

      In such a case they could give the passengers a choice - either sit down and prepare for takeoff, or leave the plane.

      As passengers you are at the mercy of having to trust that an airline will have your baggage in the belly of the plane you are on when it takes off. Passengers having more information is only a bad thing for poorly run airlines / airports (since I'm sure some some airports make it easier or harder to get luggage from checkin to the gates)

      If I'm traveling somewhere with my golf clubs it is because I intend to play golf multiple times at my destination (I won't bother to bring them if I would only be able to play once or twice, it isn't worth the hassle) so I would definitely rather get off the plane and take a later flight with my clubs than trust them that they will 'eventually' reach the proper destination.

      If it is just my regular luggage I don't really care as it is just clothes and other stuff that's replaceable (I keep stuff like contact lenses or other things I can't easily buy at my destination in my carry on)

  11. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

    Interesting to see that they refer specifically to AirTags, which are a specific Apple product, which implies that similar technologies are OK. I assume this is a case of someone using a product name when they mean a generic thing (like saying iPad instead of tablet, or iPhone instead of smartphone)? Or have they opened a loophole where you could use a different type of tracker and remain within the rules.

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      Like my increasingly obsolete Tile. It doesn't have the coverage of enough people using the Tile app now.

      1. Toe Knee

        Coverage via app does appear to be shrinking, but all the Amazon “smart” devices seem to be multiplying quickly enough to offset that loss (non-scientific observation). The Ring doorbells, Alexas, and whatever else Amazon sneaks the kit into, are all over the place in certain (mostly residential) environments.

        On an unrelated note, I’d love to see some legitimate comparison of Tile/AirTag coverages.

  12. anthonyhegedus Silver badge

    Flying generally

    It's just yet another example of airlines, airports and anything in between trying to exert their control over passengers/customers. They just love to make us wait, queue, take some of our clothes off, queue again, show ID, hang around, walk miles, queue again and generally fuck around with our sanity. They love to implement rules and not explain them, change the rules without warning, and make the rules so complicated that a small proportion of people wanting to travel run afoul of them and get penalised in some way.

    And all while operating under the guise of convenience.

    The whole airline industry is just run by wannabe dictators who enjoy watching people suffer, and treat the actual movement of people as an inconvenience to them. That Lufthansa 'ban' airtags is of course a cover for 'we don't want passengers to find their luggage without us dictating when and how it's done'. However, as other commenters have said, I'm pretty sure this is going to blow up in their faces.

    1. Headley_Grange Silver badge

      Re: Flying generally

      To be fair, a lot of the queueing is due to the law - airports have to screen people, they have to make people put stuff in plastic bags, remove belts and shoes etc. and the procedures are mandated.

      The annoying meander through duty free before getting near the waiting areas and departure lounges is because airports make bugger all money from flying. Ditto the lack of seating - they want you spending money in the shops and cafes, not sat on your backside. LGW and LHR aside, the CEOs of most airports would describe their businesses as shopping centres and car parks with the buggeration of an attached airport. The reason that these airports make so little from flights is mostly, down to passengers because they want cheap flights. They might whinge like fuck about Ryanair and Easyjet, but when it comes to their next flight they pick the cheapest ticket regardless of which airline it is. If you think that Ryanair and EasyJet are penny-pinching as a passenger then you should try dealing with them from the airport side - especially if you're somewhere like Luton, where EasyJet has most of the flights - or Southend......... The airports could, for example, put more security staff on and have more lanes to get people through quicker, but that costs money - training, wages, equipment, etc. The airlines won't pay for it cos they don't give a toss about pax experience before they get on the plane*. A lot of the stuff they used to pay the airport for - air bridges, ground handling, etc. they have either binned or they contract separately and cut the airport out completely. The reason that the bar's open at 5am is because it's where the airport can make money.

      *yeah - I know

  13. TonyMurphy

    Who's gonna look for them

    Who's going to be checking for them? It won't be the security check-in as they are (mostly) unaware of the airline/flight you are taking, they just scan your baggage and you, then onwards you go.

    Unless Lufthansa have a team sweeping for Bluetooth emissions from checked luggage then your little air-tag will more than likely continue un-molested.

    I would have thought, also, that the baggage guys do not have authority to open luggage, that will be back on the security team?

    1. Peter Galbavy

      Re: Who's gonna look for them

      I suspect it's more about deniability than Luftwhatever scanning for tags.

      Your baggage gets lost, you go and tell them "it's here, look... or at least was at this time". "How do you know that, sir? Using banned tech? We have to destroy it now."

  14. willfe

    Their Property Their Rules, Right?

    Airlines have arbitrarily banned random bits and bobs for decades now with either no explanation or with ridiculous excuses. Why is this one any different? Besides, isn't this a case of "their property, their rules" anyway?

    I'd rather people fight airlines & TSA over carrying water bottles through security than bickering about brand-locked bluetooth emitters anyway.

    1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

      Re: Their Property Their Rules, Right?

      That tag (and your luggage) is your property. But the correct way to fight this is to fly with another airline.

  15. Joe Gurman

    Might want to update this article

    https://airwaysmag.com/lufthansa-not-bannig-airtags/

    1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

      Re: Might want to update this article

      Thanks, seems LH has got wind of the push back from customers.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Might want to update this article

        I don't read it that way.

        ... reached out to the airline to confirm or deny said reports. The carrier responded by saying that it had “not banned airtags and there is no guideline or regulation by Lufthansa to ban airtags. There is a standing ICAO regulation on such devices, but this has nothing to do with Lufthansa or any other carrier.”

        So they are saying: "no, Lufthansa has not banned Airtags; but we *are* going to enforce ICAO regulations which ban them. Only doing my job, guv."

    2. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: Might want to update this article

      That magazine article is dated Oct 8, a day before the latest statement we saw from LH (on Oct 9, our story published Oct 10) contrary to that magazine article.

      So it's up to LH to clarify what's going on. Last time we saw, LH was saying ATs are too dangerous for checked baggage.

      Edit: LH has U-turned mid-flight. AirTags are now allowed, and we've added an update.

      C.

  16. Marty McFly Silver badge
    Megaphone

    Unchallenged acceptance of the no-transmit rule for mobile devices...

    Isn't it interesting how no one challenges the paradigm about devices transmitting somehow causing a problem with the aircraft. This is completely fabricated by the industry.

    The purpose is multi-faceted and involves safety. Passengers are more likely to be attentive during the safety lecture if they do not have a little device distracting them. The '10,000 foot rule' is also for passenger safety. If a bad thing is going to happen during landing or takeoff, the cabin does not need little hand held devices flying around like little missiles. Plus if the aircraft needs to be evacuated, seconds count and fumbling with a phone thingy is time wasted.

    Just for one second put our technical thinking caps on. This aircraft, and all the others around it, are putting out gobs of electro-magnetic energy. Weather RADAR in the nose, ground proximity detectors, multiple cockpit radios, etc. These are all hardened systems. Is it really technically viable that our little piddly hand-held devices have enough transmission power to impact any of the aircraft systems?

    Blaming aircraft systems interference is a convenient way to make passengers compliant. I do not disagree with the outcome or the reasons for it. I just think it is interesting how travelers have accepted potential interference as the de facto reason.

    1. cosymart
      Flame

      Re: Unchallenged acceptance of the no-transmit rule for mobile devices...

      As for using Mobile Phones (Cell phones) at petrol stations/gasoline filling stations (USA translation). Lots of signs stating not to use your mobile phone but somehow it's ok to pay by phone within inches of the "do not use your phone" sign. See the advice! www.ukpia.com/consumer-information/mobile-phones-on-filling-station-forecourts/

      >>>> handy icon.

      1. DS999 Silver badge

        Re: Unchallenged acceptance of the no-transmit rule for mobile devices...

        The only danger a phone presents is dropping one with a metal frame onto concrete and causing a spark - and even then only if the amount of fumes in the air are just right. A spark is probably inevitable regardless...in the winter when I touch my car's door handle I often get a small shock. Not sure of the exact cause but it happens often enough when I'm filling up in the winter that I'd be dead if gasoline fumes of the proper concentration were commonplace at filling stations.

        Even the long standing bans on smoking near a gas pump are to make bystanders feel safer despite having nothing to worry about. As the Mythbusters demonstrated a lit cigarette is absolutely and totally unable to start a fire in liquid gasoline no matter how hard you try, despite what Hollywood movies may show.

      2. jtaylor

        Re: Unchallenged acceptance of the no-transmit rule for mobile devices...

        The explanation that I've seen for prohibiting mobile phone use on a forecourt is because some people get absorbed in their phone conversation and disregard their surroundings. Having the whole line wait for someone to finish chatting with their bestie is not good for business.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    And you are surprised?

    > Lufthansa did not respond to multiple calls and emails seeking comment about the rationale for the policy

    Lufthansa did not respond to multiple calls and emails when I was *trying to buy a ticket* the other day (there was only one possible flight I could take, and it happened to be LH).

    Ended up rescheduling my meeting and flying Air France, which seemed like a paragon of efficiency in comparison, which is some saying.

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