Air New Zealand has updated its terms of service to ban certain baggage trackers from checked luggage.
The airline's website was recently updated with specific advice on luggage trackers in passengers checked luggage, saying that only models that can be physically "turned off" would be allowed to fly.
“Only battery powered baggage trackers that can be turned off, ie, are not in sleep mode, will be accepted in checked baggage.”
This could mean that thousands of devices would not be allowed to fly with the airline.
Some of the most popular baggage trackers, including the Apple AirTag and Tile, do not allow users to switch them off. It is argued turning off the bluetooth GPS trackers before flying would make them redundant.
A recent uptick in luggage mishandling has led bluetooth tracking devices to become a popular travel accessory. Earlier this year SITA reported that mishandling had jumped 5 per cent and some insurers said lost luggage rates had increased 30 per cent on pre-pandemic levels.
This morning the airline issued further clarification on specific brands of trackers that they would no longer be able to accept in checked luggage.
AirTag and Tile were among the devices Stuff reported that the airline would not be accepting on Air New Zealand flights under ICAO dangerous goods regulations.
The airline told the Herald that it had not “banned” the devices on any new safety grounds but the tags were a relatively new technology that fell under broad existing guidelines on lithium battery powered devices.
Air New Zealand said it will conduct its own safety review of these products in early 2023 as part of the safety management plan, and would update advice if the regulation authority’s advice changes.
While there was some allowance for devices with an auto On/Off feature, this did not apply to the Apple branded devices.
“Always check the specifications of the device you want to buy as it may not be accepted by us.”
New Zealand’s civil aviation security body AVSEC told the Herald that the prohibited items list was specified by the airline, and it had not updated its screening guidelines for trackers.
"Aviation Security has not been directed by the airlines, or by the regulators (ICAO/IATA) to remove AirTags from bags. While we currently aren't screening for these items, this could change if the regulator deems it necessary," said a CAA spokesperson.
It would be up to passengers to declare whether they were travelling with the devices, but risked having them confiscated.
Apple, whose AirTag trackers were among the prohibited items, told the Herald that it would work with industry stakeholders to get clearer guidance for travellers in New Zealand.
“People all over the world have relied on them to keep tabs on their belongings, including their luggage while travelling,” adding their product was “compliant with international airline travel safety regulations for carry-on and checked baggage.”
Lufthansa backtracks on trackers
Air New Zealand isn’t the first airline to name AirTags and baggage trackers among their prohibited check-in items.
Last month German carrier Lufthansa warned that baggage trackers would be subject to ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation) dangerous goods regulations for lithium metal batteries.
The airline's customer advice team told passengers it was "banning activated AirTags" from checked luggage.
Batteries with more than 2g of lithium and in excess of 100W cannot be taken as checked luggage, according to ICAO. The devices’ built-in CR2032 batteries came under that definition, according to Lufthansa.
After a week's worth of confusion the airline later backtracked on the decision to ban the trackers following an additional "risk assessment".
“The German Aviation Authorities (Luftfahrtbundesamt) 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. With that these devices are allowed on Lufthansa flights,” said the airline on October 13.
The quick rise in popularity of the luggage tracking devices means that regulation is not consistent across international travel networks.
Aviation group IATA, which is the world’s largest airline association, says they were pushing towards a more joined-up guidance towards luggage trackers.
Euronews reported that IATA had requested the topic be discussed as a matter of urgency with the ICAO Dangerous Goods Panel this month.