Will Air NZ’s ban on AirTags ever fly? | information age

Apple AirTags have been popular with travelers for locating their luggage. Photo: Shutterstock

Apple’s AirTag tracking devices have become a popular way of locating lost luggage amid massive travel disruptions, but the practice has raised red flags at Air New Zealand – which reportedly banned the devices over security concerns regarding their lithium batteries.

The airline has warned travelers that trackers “may not be accepted by us” if they cannot be physically turned off, stating in its official baggage rules that “only battery-powered baggage trackers that can be turned off, i.e. not in sleep mode, will be accepted in checked baggage.

Air NZ’s concerns come following a firestorm caused by German flag carrier Lufthansa, which tweeted last month that the devices would be banned in checked baggage “because they are classified as dangerous and must be switched off”.

The decision, which the carrier blamed on lithium battery transport regulations set by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), created an online outcry as frustrated travelers spoke out on the value demonstrated devices to locate bags that have disappeared on file. rhythm.

A total of 8.7 suitcases per 1,000 international passengers did not arrive on time, according to figures that show a 24% increase in the volume of lost luggage this year compared to last year.

AirTags are small Bluetooth beacons that can be added to key rings or hidden in a bag, allowing their owners to locate lost items with pinpoint accuracy.

Devices can be detected by any nearby iPhone, which anonymously transmits its location to the registered owner from anywhere in the world.

When launched last year, AirTags raised eyebrows among child safety advocates and those who feared they were being used for surveillance in situations of domestic violence and bullying, despite being designed with built-in features to prevent misuse.

Yet the airlines’ concerns stem from an entirely different issue: their use of lithium-based batteries, which have been shown to be liable to explode in extreme cases if shorted, overheated or overloaded.

To ensure safety, airlines have long maintained rules on what lithium batteries passengers can carry and in what bags, which has resulted in the banning of devices like hoverboards and other devices that use batteries with a capacity greater than 160 watt hours (Wh).

Spare batteries and power banks are also regulated, with Air New Zealand requiring passengers to carry up to 20 spare batteries in hand luggage, but to avoid packing them with metal objects like coins and keys; exposed terminals should also be covered with tape during shipment.

Charging cases for Apple AirPods and other wireless Bluetooth headphones are included in this rule, the airline notes, “because their only function is to charge the [headphones] on the inside”.

Go back to the ban?

However, the disposable CR2032 batteries that power the AirTags only provide 3V of energy and store up to 0.240Ah.

This equates to just 0.72 Wh, a fraction of the power of rechargeable lithium-ion cells used to power smartphones, drones, cameras, laptops, power tools and other portable electronic devices.

When pressed on its claims that AirTags are “dangerous”, Lufthansa finally said that a risk assessment of tracking devices “with very low battery and transmission power in checked baggage does not pose a security risk”.

Lufthansa reversed its ban within days as the US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) explicitly allowed the devices to be used in checked baggage.

Trackers using batteries containing 0.3g of lithium or less can be used in checked baggage, the FAA said, noting that AirTags contain only 0.1g of lithium and “meet this threshold”. [but] other baggage tracking devices may not be”.

Air NZ is reportedly still enforcing its ban on the basis of the honor system – and will reassess the policy next year amid its claims that ICAO regulations require devices with lithium batteries to be switched off during transit .

Reports suggest the devices will continue to be allowed on Australian domestic flights.