Lufthansa reverses itself; allows Apple’s AirTags for tracking checked bags

Because Lufthansa’s singular ban on Apple AirTags in checked luggage received a lot of press, I wanted to post this to make equally public Lufthansa’s decision to reverse itself.

http://www.nytimes.com/2022/10/12/travel/lufthansa-apple-airtags-luggage.html

Lufthansa Says Apple AirTags Are Once Again Allowed in Checked Bags

The airline reversed itself Wednesday, saying it had consulted with German aviation authorities, who agreed that Bluetooth trackers were safe for passengers to use.

    Apple AirTags, designed to track and find personal belongings. They use standard watch batteries and Bluetooth Low Energy radio technology to share their location.
    Apple AirTags, designed to track and find personal belongings. They use standard watch batteries and Bluetooth Low Energy radio technology to share their location.Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

    By Daniel Victor and Patrick LaForge

    Oct. 12, 2022, 4:58 p.m. ET

    The German airline Lufthansa reversed itself on Wednesday, saying that Apple AirTags and other Bluetooth tracking devices would once again be allowed in checked baggage.

    “The German Aviation Authorities (Luftfahrt-Bundesamt) confirmed today, that they share our risk assessment that tracking devices with very low battery and transmission power in checked luggage do not pose a safety risk,” the airline said. “With that these devices are allowed on Lufthansa flights.”

    The airline had set off a storm of confusion and criticism after telling passengers that they would have to deactivate the trackers in baggage stowed in cargo holds because of international guidelines for personal electronic devices.

    Apple had rejected that interpretation on Tuesday, saying its trackers comply with all airline safety regulations.

    In the United States, that was confirmed by the Federal Aviation Administration and the Transportation Safety Administration. The European Union Aviation Safety Agency said that its regulation did “not in itself ban or allow” the trackers, but that operators had the right to determine which devices were safe to use in flight.

    It appears Lufthansa sought advice from German aviation authorities. Martin Leutke, a spokesman for the airline, said Wednesday that he had no further comment about the company’s statement, first released on Twitter.

    Lufthansa found its policy under fire when reports surfaced in the German news media that it had prohibited the devices, amid speculation that the airline had been embarrassed by reports of passengers using the devices to find baggage it had lost.

    Lufthansa had confirmed Sunday on Twitter that it believed the trackers must be deactivated in checked baggage on its flights, citing the International Civil Aviation Organization’s guidelines for dangerous goods as well as the trackers’ “transmission function.” Shutting off the trackers renders them useless.

    On Tuesday, it tried to clarify its position, with Mr. Leutke saying the airline had not banned the devices and believed they were safe but that “it is on the authorities to adapt regulations, that right now limit the use of these devices for airline passengers in checked luggage.”

    Regulators in the United States have said the trackers, which use Bluetooth technology and do not interfere with the airplanes’ communications equipment, are permitted in carry-on or checked baggage. A variety of other companies sell similar trackers, including Tile, which is popular with users of Android phones.

    In its statement, Apple said that AirTags are “compliant with international airline travel safety regulations for carry-on and checked baggage.”

    The devices use Bluetooth Low Energy, the same technology commonly used by wireless headphones, which are permitted on flights. They are tracked by sharing their last location via a secure signal to nearby Apple devices.

    Apple said I.C.A.O. does not have specific standards for cargo tracking devices, and its definition of personal consumer electronic devices is focused on larger devices, including phones, cameras and laptops. These tend to have larger lithium batteries.

    The aviation organization itself said Tuesday that it is not a regulator and “does not play an oversight role” over the airlines. Rather, its guidelines on what passengers may and may not do, and similar advice from the international trade group, trickle down to the regulators and airlines, which set policy.

    Apple said AirTags use CR2032 coin cell batteries, which are commonly used in watches and key fobs. Apple said those batteries have been approved for all baggage by the Federal Aviation Administration, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency and the International Air Transport Association, an airlines trade group.

    An F.A.A. advisory from 2017 allows devices to use low-powered wireless communication like Bluetooth on board planes in the United States. In a statement on Monday, the Transportation Security Administration confirmed Apple’s view that “tracking devices are allowed in both carry-on and checked bags.”

    Daniel Victor is a general assignment reporter based in London after stints in Hong Kong and New York. He joined The Times in 2012. @bydanielvictor

    http://www.nytimes.com/2022/10/11/travel/lufthansa-apple-airtags-luggage.html

    Lufthansa Says Passengers Can’t Use Apple AirTags to Track Checked Bags

    It appears to be the sole airline saying that international standards don’t allow passengers to use the Bluetooth devices in the cargo hold. Apple said that regulators allow their use for all baggage.

    An Apple AirTag, designed to track and find personal belongings. It uses a standard watch battery and Bluetooth Low Energy radio technology to share its location.
    An Apple AirTag, designed to track and find personal belongings. It uses a standard watch battery and Bluetooth Low Energy radio technology to share its location.Credit…Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA, via Shutterstock

    By Daniel Victor

    Oct. 11, 2022, 3:07 p.m. ET

    Lufthansa, a German airline, set off confusion recently after telling passengers that they could not use trackers like Apple AirTags in checked baggage because of international guidelines for personal electronic devices. Apple rejected that interpretation on Tuesday, saying its trackers comply with all regulations.

    It does not appear that any other airlines are requiring passengers to turn off the trackers, which have become popular as a way to find lost baggage. Lufthansa found itself in the middle of the issue when reports surfaced in the German news media that the devices were prohibited.

    Though Lufthansa said it has no desire to prohibit the devices that it deemed safe, the airline seems to have stepped in a mess based on the reading of obscure international guidelines and regulations, with no clear consensus on what is and is not allowed in Europe.

    Regulators in the United States have said the trackers, which use Bluetooth technology and do not interfere with the airplanes’ communications equipment, are permitted in carry-on or checked baggage. A variety of other companies sell similar trackers, including Tile, which is popular with users of Android phones.

    Lufthansa said on Sunday on Twitter that the trackers must be deactivated in checked baggage on its flights, citing the International Civil Aviation Organization’s guidelines for dangerous goods as well as the trackers’ “transmission function.” Shutting off the trackers renders them useless.

    The airline has not issued a specific policy prohibiting baggage trackers. Rather, it says it is at the mercy of the rules. On Tuesday, the airline said it was “in close contact with the respective institutions to find a solution as quickly as possible.” It also indicated its own examination saw no danger from their use.

    “The Lufthansa Group has conducted its own risk assessment with the result that tracking devices with very low battery and transmission power in checked luggage do not pose a safety risk,” said Martin Leutke, a Lufthansa spokesman. “We have never issued a ban on devices like that. It is on the authorities to adapt regulations that right now limit the use of these devices for airline passengers in checked luggage.”

    In its statement, Apple said that AirTags are “compliant with international airline travel safety regulations for carry-on and checked baggage.”

    The devices use Bluetooth Low Energy, the same technology commonly used by wireless headphones, which are permitted on flights. They are tracked by sharing their last location via a secure signal to nearby Apple devices.

    Apple said the international aviation body does not have specific standards for cargo tracking devices, and its definition of personal consumer electronic devices is focused on larger devices, including phones, cameras and laptops. These tend to have larger lithium batteries.

    Apple said AirTags use CR2032 coin cell batteries. These small lithium batteries are commonly used in watches and key fobs. Apple said those batteries have been approved for all baggage by the Federal Aviation Administration, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency and the International Air Transport Association, an airlines trade group.

    An F.A.A. advisory from 2017 allows devices to use low-powered wireless communication like Bluetooth on board planes in the United States. In a statement on Monday, the Transportation Security Administration confirmed Apple’s view that “tracking devices are allowed in both carry-on and checked bags.”

    On Tuesday, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency said that its regulation “does not in itself ban or allow devices such as the Apple AirTags.” But the E.A.S.A. seemed to kick the matter back to Lufthansa, saying, “It is the responsibility of operators to prohibit the use of devices which could adversely affect the flight safety or the aircraft’s systems.”

    The specification on dangerous goods from the International Civil Aviation Organization says that “batteries contained in portable electronic devices should be carried as carry-on baggage,” but that if checked “the devices must be completely switched off (not in sleep or hibernation mode).” It was not immediately clear how the guidelines address the issue of Bluetooth Low Energy transmissions.

    But the organization also said in a statement that it is not a regulator and “does not play an oversight role” over the airlines. Rather, its guidelines on what passengers may and may not do, and similar advice from the international trade group, trickle down to the regulators and airlines, which set policy.


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