It’s been quite a week for U-turns. No, I’m not talking about British politics – I’m talking about Lufthansa and its Apple AirTag ban. Someone at HQ, presumably bored with headlines about the airline’s global payments provider and swanky posh-o class suites, decided it was time for the company to become embroiled in a full-fat tech farce.
The disaster began on Saturday. A rep on Twitter said Lufthansa was “banning activated AirTags from luggage as they are classified as dangerous and need to be turned off”. This was news to Apple, which confirmed AirTags complied with regulations.
It was also news to aviation agencies, who at every opportunity quietly backed away, while noting they didn’t have anything to say about trackers, and if anyone did have something to say about them, it’d be the airlines, so blame them . Tile, presumably, sat in the corner sulking, wondering why no-one had mentioned it yet.
As the days rolled on, things went from bad to worse as people hunted for sticks to whack Lufthansa with. Travel bloggers asked if the airline was trying to save itself from the embarrassment of people noticing their luggage often took exciting – and unintended – holidays of its own. They noted bags ‘lost’ by the airline were often immediately ‘found’ by owners, thanks to AirTags.
Elsewhere, tech heads noted that the AirTag uses Bluetooth Low Energy, like wireless headphones that Lufthansa doesn’t ban. They added that AirTags use batteries akin to those in watches, which Lufthansa doesn’t ban. And observant folks pointed out Lufthansa even sells AirTags in its own store. (At the time of writing, they were labeled “available with delay”, neatly aligning with many of the company’s flights.)
Let’s all play ‘spot the not actually classified dangerous thing that doesn’t have to be turned off’ game!
The inevitable AirTag ban U-turn…
Inevitably, there was a climbdown. A frankly weird tweet confirmed Lufthansa now thought AirTags were just fine – after which point the company refused to say anything further on the matter.
The lesson here is… well, there are several, including getting your facts straight, not making bad policy announcements on Twitter and then doubling down, and stomping on a PR fire before it rages out of all control. Mostly, though, you don’t mess with people’s technology – an AirTag ban just doesn’t make sense.
It’s technology that makes air travel bearable. I recall when I first traveled to the USA, in a gigantic plane, with nothing to do. Twice during the ten-hour journey, a screen at the front of each plane section would light up. I’d then watch the top third of a movie, surrounded by people smoking as if their lives depended on it.
Over time, the smoke disappeared while the screens multiplied and moved to ceilings and then seat backs. These tiny tellies eventually evolved from showing a few rolling channels to on-demand viewing. Then we got to ignore those screens entirely, and gawp at our own personal displays instead.
The hours now whizz by – doubly so if you’re a parent who can glue your children’s eyes to Kindles, so they don’t complain every minute of the flight about being bored. In short, technology removes stress. And that’s just as true at the end of your journey; even if your bag hasn’t arrived when you do, knowing roughly its location is rather handy.
Still, due to its days-long PR disaster, Lufthansa might disagree with the old saying that it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey, what with the destination (“as you were”) being the only good bit. At least in future, airlines might now think twice and embrace technology rather than even suggesting travelers should ditch it.