A lot of people are flying overseas for the first time in a while this summer—and a lot of them are encountering chaotic airports, which have led to delayed and lost luggage.
Sure, most lost luggage gets recovered at some point, thanks to reliable tracking methods among airlines. But stepping into a new city or country without your belongings is nevertheless stressful. Where is it? When will it arrive—if ever?
You can remove some of this uncertainty by tracking your own luggage.
Tracking devices for your luggage
Tracking devices use a variety of technologies to show you where your lost items are on a map on your phone. It might be merely interesting or calming to your neuroses to know where in the world your luggage is, or it might even help you find your bags in a disorderly airport. Here are your options and how they work.
Common Bluetooth trackers
Bluetooth tracking devices like Apple’s AirTag, Life360’s Tile, and Samsung’s Galaxy SmartTag are convenient for finding your keys or valuables, but they can also help you keep an eye on your luggage while traveling. Each device has an accompanying app—Find My, Tile, and SmartThings, respectively—which can be used to track any item you’ve attached a tracker to.
Generally speaking, small Bluetooth trackers are great for tracking items within a short distance—so depending on the device you’re using, this could reach up to 400 to 800 feet. This is especially helpful if you’re at the baggage carousel in the arrivals hall at the airport and your luggage hasn’t appeared. Perhaps it’s still on the plane or perhaps it’s the next item coming out on the conveyor belt. With Bluetooth, if it’s within your immediate vicinity, you’ll know exactly where it is.
Bluetooth trackers can also work for longer distances; an approximate location on a map can be given when the tags’ signals bounce off each other. In this sense, the Apple AirTag benefits from its huge user base.
If you love the peace of mind of being able to see your luggage on a map, wherever it is in the world, then by all means give it a try. However, you might not be able to do anything about getting it back sooner. After all, the responsibility of tracking and returning your luggage should fall to the airlines and not travelers.
In contrast to Bluetooth, GPS tracking is a more accurate option for tracking items long distances—anywhere on the globe to be exact! GPS is great for tracking things like vehicles (cars or bikes) and pets.
The biggest downside of GPS over Bluetooth is its inaccuracy in enclosed spaces—specifically in densely packed indoor environments where they may be affected by concrete walls or other obstructions.
GPS luggage tags like those by Dynotag or LugLoc are great for tracking your luggage through a web portal or app in real time. If your luggage ever goes missing, you can take comfort in the fact that you’ll know exactly where it is at any given time… but unfortunately, that probably won’t help you get it back any faster.
Should you track your own luggage?
There isn’t a downside to placing a tracker on your luggage, except the cost of the tracker. Adding a tracker to your luggage does not pose a significant privacy risk to you, and there aren’t any airline rules restricting you from doing this.
There are situations in which tracking your own luggage might be helpful. For example, if you can see that it’s arrived in an airport, you can make your way there to claim it, possibly even before the airline has a chance to contact you.
And then there is, of course, the entertainment value and peace of mind that a luggage tracker can provide you.
Travel tips to avoid losing your luggage
- Opt for carry-on. Most international carriers allow for a single carry-on bag—usually 11 to 26 lb or 5 to 12 kg. So if you can squeeze most of your essentials into a carry-on, go for it!
- Personalize your bags. Making your luggage stand out as much as possible is a great way to set it apart from others in its vicinity and prevent others from taking it by accident. This can involve using loud colors or distinctive patterns; adding a unique design, such as with stickers or colored tape.
Take pictures. Before flying, take pictures of your luggage from multiple angles. This will help to ensure that you can show any airline or airport staff what they should be looking out for in the event your baggage is delayed or misplaced.
FAQ: Tracking your luggage
How can I track my luggage?
Once you’ve checked in for your flight, the airline will provide tracking information for your luggage. In case your luggage gets lost or delayed, this tracking barcode will help the airline recover it.
However, you can track your own luggage using Bluetooth and GPS tracking devices. Once a device is placed inside your suitcase, you can use an app to track your bags. But keep in mind that these devices can sometimes be used for nefarious purposes like stalking.
How do I track my delayed baggage?
Once an airline has notified you that your baggage has been delayed, you should be provided with a case number, tracking number, and contact information for further correspondence. Keep checking back with the airline frequently.
Is there an app to track luggage?
While airlines don’t provide an app that lets you track your luggage, you can insert your own tracking devices into your luggage. These devices come with apps to help you monitor the whereabouts of your belongings.
Can I put a GPS tracker in my suitcase?
Yes! There are no restrictions on placing GPS tracking devices in your luggage.
How long does it usually take to find lost luggage?
This would largely depend on the airline, season, and circumstances of your situation. While it usually ranges from a few hours to a few days, in rare circumstances it could take weeks to recover lost luggage. That said, a study conducted by SITA, an air transport services provider, found that the vast majority of lost luggage is returned within 48 hours.
Do airlines deliver delayed baggage?
Airlines usually cover all costs of delivering your delayed baggage, which might be to your hotel or home, depending on where you are. It’s important to inform the airline of your address, especially if you are traveling to multiple places before your luggage can reach you.