Air New Zealand launched its new luggage tracking service on Wednesday, allowing passengers flying with the national carrier and partner airlines to keep up with where their bags are at every step of their journey.
But how does it work in practice?
I travelled from Auckland to Houston, Texas on Thursday evening on Air New Zealand’s direct flight, connecting to a United Airlines flight to Memphis. In an unscientific experiment, with a sample size of one (me), I tried both the Air New Zealand app and my Apple AirTag Bluetooth tracking device to see how they compare.
Departure airport experience
I’d checked in online using the Air NZ app, which was simple and smooth. At the airport, I used a self-service kiosk to print my luggage tag, then took it to the bag drop - at the moment, this is being done manually by airport staff as the self-drop stations are out of action.
The first time I checked the Air NZ luggage tracker at around 4.30pm, I got an error message. I tried again 15 minutes later and the status had changed to “loaded”.
“We’ll take care of your baggage. Enjoy your flight!”, the app’s cheery message says. It gives a reference number that correlates to the number on my baggage receipt.
There were no further updates to this message, at any point before departure. There was never an “on board” message, as the initial launch image provided with the press release showed. So while it was good to see confirmation my bag had been loaded onto the plane, there’s an element of trust involved. Just because the app tells me my bag has been loaded, how do I know this is actually the case?
Air NZ’s Chief Digital Officer Nikhil Ravishankar provided an explanation for how the app interacts with the process of moving baggage throughout the journey.
“The baggage tracking feature is designed to update customers on where their bag is when it is scanned at points throughout its journey. The time between when you drop your bag off and a ‘loaded’ update appearing on the screen can be quite fast, depending on processes at each airport. On international services, bags are scanned are they loaded into a baggage container with a group of other bags that will go in the aircraft. Once loaded into the baggage container, customers can be assured the container will be loaded onto the aircraft.”
Here’s where the Apple Airtag really comes into its own. Using the “Find My” app on my iPhone, I could see a real-time representation of where my suitcase was in relation to me. A blue circle shows my location, and a suitcase emoji shows my bag. At the departure gate, I could see my bag was less than 10m away, so I knew it was on the plane.
Arrival airport experience
After a 20-minute delay in taking off, we made up time in the air and landed in Houston about five minutes ahead of schedule. The immigration queues at George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) were lengthy, but constantly moving. We were in the line for about 30 minutes, and I checked the Air NZ app regularly for updates on my luggage. For that 30 minutes, the status message was still the same as it had been since check-in at Auckland: “loaded”, timed at 4.45pm.
Through the Find My app, I could see my suitcase was within the IAH terminal, just a few metres away from me.
Checking the Air NZ app again after 30 minutes, the status message had updated to “transferred”. It would be easy to assume that meant my suitcase had been transferred to my connecting flight. However, when travelling to the US, all passengers must collect their luggage at their first arrival airport, then manually take them to a second bag drop station. As I’ve travelled to the US before, I was aware of this process, but I worry that first-time travellers relying solely on the app’s messages could get tripped up.
I asked Air NZ if they would consider changing the wording of that message for US flights. Chief Digital Officer Nikhil Ravishankar said:
“The transferred update is designed to inform customers that their bag has made it onto their connecting flight with a Star Alliance partner. We’re aware customers transiting through the US need to collect and re-check their luggage and are looking at alternative updates to improve the app’s updates. We’re always listening to customer feedback to hear how we can make their journey as seamless as possible, so are taking this on board to make the tracking feature clearer for our customers making connections in the US.”
While in transit in Houston, my next flight with United Airlines still showed in the app, and the status of my luggage showed as “checked in”. Ahead of boarding the plane, it changed to “loaded”, giving me peace of mind my case would make it to Memphis with me.
In this case, the Air NZ app worked better than my Airtag - the status in my Find My app wasn’t updated for more than 45 minutes. As I walked onto the plane, it finally changed to show my bag was less than 0.1km away - in the luggage hold below me.
This new, free service from Air NZ is a fantastic development for Kiwi travellers, and gives a degree of peace of mind. It also allows an easier way to report missing luggage if for some reason your bags don’t arrive at your destination.
Apple Airtags do have better functionality, with real-time location tracking and a more visual representation of the status of your luggage. But, they are expensive - $59 for one, or $199 for a pack of four. That cost can’t be underestimated - if you’ve already spent your hard-earned money on expensive flights, accommodation and saved up for holiday spending money, you might be hesitant to add another cost onto your trip. In which case, Air NZ’s service gives you a cost-free way of keeping tabs on your luggage. You just might need to put any control freak, micro-managing tendencies aside, and sit back and trust the process.