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Lufthansa bans Apple AirTags on checked bags

Wouldn't want anyone to know how much luggage is lost, eh?

Updated 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 checked luggage.

"Lufthansa is banning activated AirTags from luggage as they are classified as dangerous and need to be turned off," the airline said on Saturday.

Asked to explain the policy, the airline said, "According to ICAO guidelines, 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."

The policy appears to be unpopular among travelers who have taken to using Apple AirTags to track checked bags, because air carriers occasionally misdirect or lose bags – ~7 out of every 1,000, per the US Department of Transportation.

Among travelers, there's speculation that Lufthansa decided to enforce this policy to avoid being shamed on social media by travelers whose bags have been lost.

Lufthansa did not respond to multiple calls and emails seeking comment about the rationale for the policy, whether the airline will enforce the policy, and how it might do so.

According to Ethan Klapper, senior reporter for The Points Guy, a Lufthansa spokesperson denied there's an AirTag ban. But that was one day prior to the airline's latest statement to the contrary.

IATA and the ICAO also did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Apple also did not respond to a request for comment.

Over the past decade, the combustion of lithium-ion batteries in aircraft baggage holds has prompted restrictions on the kinds of electronic devices that can be carried in aircraft cabins and baggage holds.

Apple AirTags, however, rely on tiny lithium-metal batteries, model CR2032 [PDF] to be specific. They contain an energy density of 198 milliwatt hr/g and 0.109 grams (0.0038 oz.) of lithium. As such, they are allowed in checked bags in the US under FAA rules [PDF].

Among US-based air carriers, United Airlines has no problem with passengers using the tracking devices. "We do not have a policy related to AirTags," a spokesperson told The Register.

AirTags also appear to be allowed under rules formulated by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which are based on ICAO recommendations. The IATA rule states approval is not required for lithium metal batteries with lithium content of two grams or less – so AirTags would be allowed.

Separate Lufthansa guidelines say checked bags may contain devices with integral, removable batteries that have lithium content of up to 0.3 g – meaning AirTags should be allowed.

However, specific IATA guidance for "smart" baggage features, like GPS trackers, requires [PDF], "The [portable electronic device] must be designed with a minimum of two independent means to turn off completely, turn off cellular or mobile functions, or a combination of both when airborne."

This may be where Apple's GPS trackers run afoul of the rules: AirTags do not have an on-device or remote off switch – the battery must be removed (or run out of power) to turn it off.

Whether or how Lufthansa intends to enforce this policy isn't obvious. Removing bags with AirTags from flights seems certain to generate ill-will among customers. We'll update this story if we hear back from Lufthansa. ®

Updated to add on October 12

There seems to have been a midair U-turn.

"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," a spokesperson for Lufthansa told The Register.

"With that, these devices are allowed on Lufthansa flights."

So AirTags are allowed after all.

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