The German airline Lufthansa has posted a tweet stating that, following discussions with German airline authorities, it will henceforth be allowing AirTags to be carried on its flights.
This follows several days of speculation about Lufthansa’s policies regarding the mini Bluetooth trackers, and about the reasons for those policies.
At the weekend, a company representative stated on Twitter that Lufthansa was “banning activated AirTags from luggage as they are classified as dangerous and need to be turned off.” Pressed for a reason, a separate rep claimed that the decision was based on international guidelines.
“According to ICAO guidelines,” the representative wrote, “baggage trackers are subject to the dangerous goods regulations. Furthermore, due to their transmission function, the trackers must be deactivated during the flight if they are in checked baggage and cannot be used as a result.” AirTags can be removed from Find My relatively easily, but that defeats the purpose of having one in your luggage.
The waters were muddied, however, by other statements. Aviation analyst Alex Machetes reported that Lufthansa had confirmed to him that AirTags weren’t banned. And Lufthansa separately told Airways magazine on Saturday 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.” But the latter explanation appeared to imply that AirTags were banned on the flights, with the airline instead disputing which organisation made the decision: it was a “standing ICAO regulation,” rather than any internal directive made by Lufthansa, which was the reason for the ban.
It may be worth mentioning that following the latest clarification, Lufthansa still hasn’t deleted those initial tweets. (Nor has it yet responded to a Macworld request for clarification.) Indeed, the wording of the new tweet appears to imply once again that AirTags were banned, and now aren’t.
As for the ICAO guidelines: Nobody seems sure whether that claim is legit. Numerous Twitter respondents insisted there is an exemption for devices with lithium batteries below a certain size and that the AirTags should qualify. The TSA has said there isn’t a problem with wireless trackers, and the German site Watson, which broke the story, was given a similar response from representatives of both Munich and Berlin airports.
Across the airline industry, there currently appears to be no consensus regarding AirTags. As Watson observes, many airlines tolerate them. An American Air representative told Macworld on Twitter rather cautiously that, “at the moment, no info indicates these devices are banned from our flights.” EasyJet said: “We do not have a policy against having Apple AirTags with you onboard.” United Airlines said: “There are no restrictions with having AirTags inside your checked luggage.”
This reporter isn’t an expert in airline regulations, and cannot offer much insight into the ins and outs of dangerous goods classifications–other than to wonder why it took until October 2022 for pre-existing regulations to be used to proscribe a device released in April 2021, or similar devices like Tile that have existed for years before. The timing strongly suggested this was a question of user behavior, which took time to emerge and be observed, rather than scientifically determined danger. If anyone was genuinely concerned that AirTags could make planes fall out of the sky, they would have been banned from day one.
Travel experts suspect that Lufthansa may have been motivated by the way passengers have started using AirTags to track the location of lost luggage. Ben Schlappig of One Mile At A Time says he is “not surprised to see Lufthansa be the first airline to add a ban like this. Lufthansa isn’t exactly a customer-friendly airline, and the airline has had an awful summer when it comes to lost bags. AirTags empower travelers in terms of knowing exactly where their bags are, and I imagine that’s something some airlines don’t actually like. If you look at Twitter, you’ll see a ton of people expressing frustration with Lufthansa because they know exactly where their checked bag is, while the airline refuses to help.”