After waiting in vain for over 40 minutes for one of my checked bags from a holiday ski trip to come off the belt and onto the luggage carousel at Houston’s Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) this week, things were starting to look bleak.
The bags had stopped coming down, partly because the carousel was so full it was continually backing up.
Fellow passengers worked together, unloading bags onto the floor and playing a real-life game of Tetris with the ones still on the carousel in an effort to keep things moving.
Eventually, after an uncomfortably long pause in any luggage progress, an announcement came over the speaker saying if your bags weren’t at the assigned carousel for your flight, go check another one.
What wasn’t expressly said over the intercom but felt implied from the scene all around was that they could be anywhere. Or nowhere.
My bag certainly wasn’t alone in its zig-zagged journey home.
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AirTags were heroes of the holiday travel season
The number of delayed and canceled flights over the holiday travel period justifiably caught headlines, but where there are stranded passengers, there are also likely to be piles of stuck-in-limbo checked bags.
And indeed, over the last few weeks, there has been no shortage of stories of checked bags that are anywhere but where they are supposed to be.
This has certainly happened before with other airport and airline meltdowns. Only this time, many travelers (myself included) were ready and had a not-so-secret weapon to find the bags themselves: AirTags.
They were first released in 2021 but ramped up as a must-have frequent flyer tool in 2022, largely thanks to the stories and photos of piles of unclaimed luggage at some airports.
And while many airlines have pretty sophisticated ways to track bags in their system and share that information with the traveler, sometimes the AirTag knows best, as was the case for recent traveler Valerie Szybala.
Szybala caught the attention of over 22 million views on Twitter with her tweets about her missing checked bag that was pinging it was at a seemingly random apartment complex instead of where the airline told her it was.
I’d just like everyone to know that @united has lost track of my bag and is lying about it. My apple AirTag shows that it has been sitting in a residential apartment complex for over a day. Out back by the dumpsters, I have found other emptied United Airlines bags. pic.twitter.com/fcoq4nj3zb
— valerie szybala. (@vszyb) January 1, 2023
According to the AirTag, and her tweets, Szybala’s bag had a multi-night sleepover at that apartment complex and even went out to eat at a few restaurants.
— valerie szybala. (@vszyb) January 2, 2023
Eventually catching the attention of the airline and news crews, that bag and its owner were eventually reunited. Szybala is convinced the AirTag (and going viral as a result) are the only reasons the story had a happy ending.
As for my own checked bag full of ski clothes and gear, an AirTag I had placed inside before the flight also played an important role in our reunion. Thanks to the AirTag, I knew the bag had made it on our flight and landed in Houston.
Even after a frustrating hour in baggage claim, I knew it couldn’t be that far away. While the AirTag, unfortunately, wasn’t updating its exact location in real-enough time to help me ping it among the piles of luggage, knowing it was at the right airport kept me from throwing in the towel.
Eventually, I found my bag on the floor among dozens of others like it beside a baggage carousel that had nothing to do with my original flight.
I have no way of knowing if it had been sitting there for five minutes or the whole time I was waiting. However, knowing I was close to finding it thanks to the AirTag kept me searching in this real-life egg hunt until that bag and I eventually headed home together.
Best $29 travel investment you can make
Sometimes carrying on all your luggage isn’t possible, as was the case with our ski trip. The best thing to do to increase the odds that you and your things will meet again is to toss an AirTag in the bag before you hand it over to the airline.
Of course, most bags make it where they are supposed to be, but some inevitably don’t.
This is especially true when an airline experiences an operational meltdown impacting thousands of flights and untold numbers of bags, which also causes ripple effects even to flights and airlines that otherwise have pretty normal operations underway.
While airlines and even some popular credit cards offer reimbursement in the event of lost and delayed bags, I personally want to go home with the stuff I left with.
At just $29 and measuring in at roughly the size of a quarter, an AirTag is a perfect tool to help with that job and a small price to pay for some pretty hefty peace of mind.