Flying with Apple's AirTag: When 'boring' is genuinely high praise

Posted:
in General Discussion edited May 2021
It turns out, flying with AirTag is about as exciting as waiting in a TSA security screening line, and that's perfectly OK.




It was my first flight since Covid struck, and I was already late. Newly emboldened with that sweet Pfizer goodness coursing through my veins, I had booked a trip to Florida to see my family, coinciding with Mother's Day and my Mom's birthday.

I picked up a $99 four-pack for Apple AirTag -- it still feels weird not writing the product name plural. One AirTag went to my wife, one went into a bag of overpriced hockey equipment, and the other two were selected for traveling -- one in my personal item taken in the cabin of the plane (a backpack), and one for my checked luggage, which, for a 12-day stay, was dangerously close to Delta's 50-pound limit.

Apple Maps told me it would be a 32-minute trip to LaGuardia, which would provide me plenty of time. The Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and my Lyft driver had other ideas.

Fifty-five minutes after leaving our apartment, we arrived at LaGuardia's Terminal C with 40 minutes to spare before takeoff. Delta's bag check closes 45 minutes before the flight. My long awaited Sunshine State extended stay was off to a rocky start.

Earlier, as we watched the minutes tick away gridlocked on the BQE, my wife offered an optimistic take -- we both have TSA PreCheck and would have plenty of time to get through security and catch our flight. Perhaps Delta would put our borderline-overweight bag on a later flight. This would give me an opportunity to check its status after I landed in Florida, which raised all kinds of interesting possibilities.

Would AirTag tracking work in the air, connecting to other users' iPhones in the cabin? The prospect of not having my bag at arrival was frustrating, but tracking it as it traveled down the East Coast seemed kind of exciting.

Alas, it was not to be. Delta wouldn't allow our bag to travel separately from us. We'd have to wait for the next flight to Orlando that was mercifully just an hour later.

Functional, not revolutionary, is fine

The AirTag is not an "exciting" or "interesting" product in the sense that, say, a new iPhone or Apple Watch can be. Sure, AirTag is a technical achievement, leveraging a vast network of iPhones to pinpoint your things and make sure they are safe and secure. But your best day with an AirTag is one where you don't really need it.

A typical day at a TSA checkpoint might yield some unemptied water bottles, or a Swiss Army knife someone forgot was stowed in their carry-on. It's not an "exciting" or "interesting" experience. And yet we participate in it because of the rare instance where something might truly go awry, helping prevent those worst case scenarios from becoming a possibility.

An AirTag is used in essentially the same spirit. Nobody plans to lose their luggage, or their keys, or their car. But hey, it happens.

Just like the experience of standing in line waiting to potentially be frisked by a TSA agent is, on its its best day, entirely mundane, Apple's AirTag is a quality, boring accessory.




If you buy and use a $99 AirTag four-pack, you'll probably find that your keys are right where you left them, your luggage is indeed on the plane with you, and nobody went on a joyride with your car.

Maybe, occasionally, you'll use the speaker function to find your keys that fell in the couch cushion. Maybe the AirTag in your glove box will remind you what lot number you left your car at. That's OK.

Sure, it's boring, but a little peace of mind can go a long way.

My small Brooklyn apartment doesn't have a garage, but I would imagine that a HomeKit-connected garage door opener serves much the same purpose. "Did I remember to close the garage door?" is a common moment of self-doubt. With a connected garage door opener, you can confirm that, yes, you did indeed close it.

For some, that reassurance is enough to make your blood pressure drop. Especially if you're dealing with other stressors, like missing your flight.

Back at LaGuardia, we breezed through security in time to hear last call for boarding our original flight. We stood and watched at the gate as the Airbus A320 backed away from the jet bridge and headed for the runway. I pulled out my iPhone 12 Pro and saw my bag was still on the ground with me.

We were on standby for the next flight at 5:10 p.m., so it was still unclear whether we would get a seat on the next trip. Using Apple's Find My app, I saw that the bag had made its way from the ticketing area to the terminal. It was a good sign and helped put me at ease.

Soon after, my wife received an update from the Delta app letting us know that our purple Samsonite suitcase was, in fact, safely stowed on the flight. The agents at the gate hadn't assigned us a seat yet, or even let us know that we were going to be on the flight, but we felt pretty confident.

Sure enough, we were soon informed that we had seats, and we'd been upgraded to first class. Not bad for an hour wait.


Accidental first class with luggage safely onboard.


A few days after arriving in Florida, my publisher messaged me to ask how my flight went. He, too, hadn't flown in over a year, and was newly vaccinated and a little stressed about the prospect of navigating a crowded airport and cramming into an airplane. I told him my tale, and he laughed, particularly at the fact that I had used Apple Maps to gauge how long it would take to get to LaGuardia.

"Haha u trusted Apple Maps" he texted.

My debacle wasn't so funny when I was sitting on the BQE, but by that point, I could laugh about it too.

I then told my publisher I was working on a story about flying with Apple's AirTag. I said I wasn't really sure what I would write. There wasn't much to say. It works. It's boring It does what it says. And that's all it needs to do.

A week later, it was time to fly back to New York. I arrived at the airport -- this time in Tampa, and this time with over an hour before takeoff. It went about as humdrum as you'd expect. Somehow my bag weighed 5 pounds more at the airport than it did at home. The AirTag was tucked inside, ready to go on another adventure through the bowels of Tampa International, finding its way to my plane.

As we took the shuttle from the ticketing area to Airside E, I pulled out my iPhone. Yes, my luggage was still at the ticketing area. Yes, my backpack was on me. Yes, my hockey bag was still at home in Brooklyn.




Later, at the gate, the Find My app let me know my bag had made its way to the plane. When we landed at LaGuardia, I saw it make its way to the baggage claim area.

AirTag isn't precise enough to let me know with pinpoint accuracy where my bag was on the carousel itself, but that's OK. This isn't an interesting or exciting product. It's a puck the size three stacked quarters, powered by a coin battery.

It's like a Mentos -- you're unsure whether it needs an 'S' at the end of the word, and you could probably swallow it whole, if you didn't care about your health or well being.

Not everything Apple does needs to be the iPod, or the first iPhone. Apple doesn't need to debut something that commands a market segment like the iPad, Apple Watch, air AirPods every year.

Sometimes "boring" is nice. Boring can mean comforting, and safe, and reliable. It can provide just what you need and nothing more. Boring is there in case you need it, but hopefully you never do.

Hopefully, you never really have any excitement using your AirTag. You can always turn to Apple Maps for that.

Stay on top of all Apple news right from your HomePod. Say, "Hey, Siri, play AppleInsider," and you'll get latest AppleInsider Podcast. Or ask your HomePod mini for "AppleInsider Daily" instead and you'll hear a fast update direct from our news team. And, if you're interested in Apple-centric home automation, say "Hey, Siri, play HomeKit Insider," and you'll be listening to our newest specialized podcast in moments.
patchythepirate
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 23
    pulseimagespulseimages Posts: 548member
    I always groan when some app opens Apple Maps instead of Google Maps. 
    nhughesmuthuk_vanalingamwilliamlondonchemengin1
  • Reply 2 of 23
    maltzmaltz Posts: 427member
    I always groan when some app opens Apple Maps instead of Google Maps. 

    +1

    Every year or so I think to myself "It's been a while since I've used Apple Maps, and I'd love to use a more privacy-friendly app than Google or Waze.  Maybe I should give it another try."  And in some large or small way, it fails me...  Every.  Single. Time.  (YMMV)
    muthuk_vanalingamwilliamlondonbeowulfschmidtchemengin1
  • Reply 3 of 23
    rossgggrossggg Posts: 12member
    I always groan when some app opens Apple Maps instead of Google Maps. 
    I don't use Google maps, or many of the other apps from Google's platform when it's possible to avoid them, due to their abysmal record with regard to privacy.

    Later, at the gate, the Find My app let me know my bag had made its way to the plane. When we landed in LaGuardia, I saw it make its way to the baggage claim area.

    AirTag isn't precise enough to let me know with pinpoint accuracy where my bag was on the carousel itself, but that's OK. This isn't an interesting or exciting product. It's a puck the size three stacked quarters, powered by a coin battery.
    I recently traveled with an AirTag in my luggage and I did find it a bit helpful at the baggage claim.  On both the outbound and return trips, I found myself stuck in a crowd of people on the side of the baggage carousel opposite from where the bags entered and without a clear view.  I was able to leave the Find My app open and as soon as the "Find Nearby" button appeared in place of the "Approximate Distance/Directions" button I was able to correctly surmise that my bag had entered the carousel from the other side and the AirTag had established a direct connection with my phone.  The Find Nearby screen even helpfully displayed the more precise distance between my bag and the phone so I could determine when it was about to come around the corner and approach me.  This is admittedly more entertaining than it is practical since knowing my bag is somewhere on the belt is enough information to start looking for it.  I could see the precise tracking being useful in the occasional baggage situation where the airport staff have already removed the bags for a flight from the carousel and placed them all together somewhere in the baggage claim area though.

    My only complaint about this experience is that the only notification option available for an AirTag, "Notify when Found", will send an alert the next time the tag's position is updated by ANY device participating in the Find My Network.  It would be helpful if there were also a similar "Notify when Nearby" notification that would alert me the next time the tag is detected by my device directly.  It would have allowed me to avoid keeping the Find My app open and watching for the button to change.  I believe Tile and/or Trackr offer an option like that, though it was a little flakey when I last tried it.
    edited May 2021 jahbladeviclauyycdewmetwokatmewpujones1
  • Reply 4 of 23
    christopher126christopher126 Posts: 4,366member
    Excellent and enjoyable article.

    I can relate to anything that relieves stress while traveling/flying. :)

    Back in the day, I was flying and had just purchased a white Mophie battery case for my then white iPhone 3GS. It was somewhat bulky but I liked the four blue charge-level indicator lights on it.

    (My brother-in-law said I looked like a Stars Wars storm trooper.) 

    I was so comforted by the fact that, upon arrival, I'd have enough battery power to arrange being picked-up, etc.

    Best.
    nhughespatchythepirate
  • Reply 5 of 23
    yojimbo007yojimbo007 Posts: 1,165member
     AirTag isn't precise enough to let me know with pinpoint accuracy ”

    My Airtags are accurate to within inches… and the find me App clearly guide me to their exact location within an inch or so! 
  • Reply 6 of 23
    sflocalsflocal Posts: 6,069member
    I will definitely be purchasing a 4-pack soon.  As s SCUBA diver, I check in some very expensive items and it's always in the back of my mind that someone in the airport would steal it.  Will be interesting to try it out. and to see how it works outside of the U.S.
    christopher126
  • Reply 7 of 23
    nhughesnhughes Posts: 770editor
    “ AirTag isn't precise enough to let me know with pinpoint accuracy ”

    My Airtags are accurate to within inches… and the find me App clearly guide me to their exact location within an inch or so! 
    You left out an important part of the sentence: "AirTag isn't precise enough to let me know with pinpoint accuracy where my bag was on the carousel itself."

    It's not really designed to "live track" an object that is on a moving platform. However, as @rossggg noted in their comment, you can know your bag is nearby and presumably somewhere on the carousel because your iPhone has directly connected to the AirTag.
    twokatmewpatchythepirate
  • Reply 8 of 23
    viclauyycviclauyyc Posts: 849member
    sflocal said:
    I will definitely be purchasing a 4-pack soon.  As s SCUBA diver, I check in some very expensive items and it's always in the back of my mind that someone in the airport would steal it.  Will be interesting to try it out. and to see how it works outside of the U.S.
    So it must be pretty expensive to check in your scuba gear every time?
  • Reply 9 of 23
    fred1fred1 Posts: 1,092member
    Very well written article. This is the main recent I’ve been wanting an AirTag. 
    Can’t AirTags be found on a luggage carousel using the Find feature (can’t remember the name for it)? Do they have to be stationary?
  • Reply 10 of 23
    JFC_PAJFC_PA Posts: 923member
    Traveled the BQE with only a 20 minute cushion for a hard deadline? The author’s one of those people I’ve seen rush to an international flight gate right as the plane is pushing back from the ramp way somehow surprised it isn’t magically waiting for them. 

    I like my air travel as boring as my AirTag use: so I give the arrival a big, low stress, cushion. 

    Aside from my checked luggage being deliberately dirty black truckers tarp duffles (nothing to steal here, move along) anything sensitive or expensive like cameras or dive computers etc. I’ll carry on. 
    edited May 2021
  • Reply 11 of 23
    jdwjdw Posts: 1,278member
    "AirTag isn't precise enough to let me know with pinpoint accuracy where my bag was on the carousel..."

    After reading all the hype about AirTags, I came to have the expectation that it WOULD let you know where your bag was on a huge airport baggage carousel.  If it can't do that, why pick AirTags over Tile?  And from what I read, Tile has longer range and a beep that actually loud enough to hear too.
  • Reply 12 of 23
    chadbagchadbag Posts: 1,967member
    I always groan when some app opens Apple Maps instead of Google Maps. 
    I always groan when an app tries to open Google maps and goes to the Google maps webpage instead of using Apple Maps , which for me, works much better than Googles maps product, which has tried to guide me on all sorts of non existent paths in the past.  

    On my iPhone, other app’s should open Apple Maps. 
    retrogusto
  • Reply 13 of 23
    chadbagchadbag Posts: 1,967member
    Go ahead and say “4 pack of Apple Airtags” with an S.  This is English.  or if that offends you try “4 pack of Apple AirTag branded trackers” or some other obtuse thing.  Or simply, as also mentioned in the article, “AirTag 4-Pack”

    AirTag or iPhone as a brand or concept may not take an S, but when talking about the items themselves, we add an S 

    seanjtwokatmewbeowulfschmidtmaltz
  • Reply 14 of 23
    MplsPMplsP Posts: 3,831member
    chadbag said:
    I always groan when some app opens Apple Maps instead of Google Maps. 
    I always groan when an app tries to open Google maps and goes to the Google maps webpage instead of using Apple Maps , which for me, works much better than Googles maps product, which has tried to guide me on all sorts of non existent paths in the past.  

    On my iPhone, other app’s should open Apple Maps. 
    Ditto - overall I’ve found Apple Maps to be quite accurate. The one exception is for traffic incidents. I’ve yet to have an Apple Maps warning be true. 
  • Reply 15 of 23
    MplsP said:
    chadbag said:
    I always groan when some app opens Apple Maps instead of Google Maps. 
    I always groan when an app tries to open Google maps and goes to the Google maps webpage instead of using Apple Maps , which for me, works much better than Googles maps product, which has tried to guide me on all sorts of non existent paths in the past.  

    On my iPhone, other app’s should open Apple Maps. 
    Ditto - overall I’ve found Apple Maps to be quite accurate. The one exception is for traffic incidents. I’ve yet to have an Apple Maps warning be true. 
    I use Apple Maps exclusively, always have. For the most part it’s via CarPlay. I have no issues so I wonder what terrible things I’m experiencing and unaware of that Google Maps and Waze would relieve me of.

    What do you mean by ‘traffics incidents’? Do you mean the orange and red lines that appear to indicate a slow down or stop? I get those quite a bit and most of the time they are accurate.

    By the way, since the most recent update that allows reporting of speed checks, accidents and hazards I have reported a few speed checks. However, since I’m doing the reporting and driving away from said speed check I have no idea if it’s populating for travelers behind me. I have also yet to see a warning of a speed check before I got to one, or I’m unaware of what it looks like. Any ideas?
    twokatmew
  • Reply 16 of 23
    sflocalsflocal Posts: 6,069member
    viclauyyc said:
    sflocal said:
    I will definitely be purchasing a 4-pack soon.  As s SCUBA diver, I check in some very expensive items and it's always in the back of my mind that someone in the airport would steal it.  Will be interesting to try it out. and to see how it works outside of the U.S.
    So it must be pretty expensive to check in your scuba gear every time?
    It can be.  Depends on where I'm going and what class I'm flying in.  I almost always have to pay an extra luggage fee no matter what because of all my gear.   That's just the way it is.  Either I pay to take my gear with me, or I pay more to rent that same (but more inferior) gear at y destination. 
  • Reply 17 of 23
    ivanhivanh Posts: 597member
    it’s a surprise to me that AirTag cannot share location. 
  • Reply 18 of 23
    fred1fred1 Posts: 1,092member
    ivanh said:
    it’s a surprise to me that AirTag cannot share location. 
    It seems strange to me as well that I can’t share one of my AirTag’s location.  
  • Reply 19 of 23
    MacProMacPro Posts: 19,662member
    MplsP said:
    chadbag said:
    I always groan when some app opens Apple Maps instead of Google Maps. 
    I always groan when an app tries to open Google maps and goes to the Google maps webpage instead of using Apple Maps , which for me, works much better than Googles maps product, which has tried to guide me on all sorts of non existent paths in the past.  

    On my iPhone, other app’s should open Apple Maps. 
    Ditto - overall I’ve found Apple Maps to be quite accurate. The one exception is for traffic incidents. I’ve yet to have an Apple Maps warning be true. 
    I use Apple Maps exclusively, always have. For the most part it’s via CarPlay. I have no issues so I wonder what terrible things I’m experiencing and unaware of that Google Maps and Waze would relieve me of.

    What do you mean by ‘traffics incidents’? Do you mean the orange and red lines that appear to indicate a slow down or stop? I get those quite a bit and most of the time they are accurate.

    By the way, since the most recent update that allows reporting of speed checks, accidents and hazards I have reported a few speed checks. However, since I’m doing the reporting and driving away from said speed check I have no idea if it’s populating for travelers behind me. I have also yet to see a warning of a speed check before I got to one, or I’m unaware of what it looks like. Any ideas?
    WayPoints!  Apple maps as far as I can tell doesn't let you add multiple legs to a journey with details of each leg.  I drive from Florida to New Hampshire and back and as an oldie take three days each way to do this, staying at hotels along the way.  In Google Maps I can plot each leg, even adding drag markers to pull the trip off the main route slightly for a hotel. It is invaluable to be able to have the entire trip on one map like this.   This has been possible for years with Google Maps and every year I wait for Apple to add this. 

    p.s. If it can please explain!  :)
    edited May 2021 patchythepirate
  • Reply 20 of 23
    sdw2001sdw2001 Posts: 17,991member
    A few days after arriving in Florida, my publisher messaged me to ask how my flight went. He, too, hadn't flown in over a year, and was newly vaccinated and a little stressed about the prospect of navigating a crowded airport and cramming into an airplane.

    This is the part that really gets me.  There is zero reason for people to be stressed about crowds and flying if they are vaccinated.  The only reason they are is the media spent the last 15 months pushing panic porn.  The virus was a real threat, especially to older or more vulnerable people.  It is highly contagious.  But the threat has to be put in perspective.  Our response to the threat was completely disproportionate, as well as illogical and self-destructive.  Now, people wonder why others are still afraid even though we have three amazing vaccines that nearly anyone can get.  

    patchythepiratemuthuk_vanalingam
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