As a traveling photographer, the easiest way to ruin a trip is for the airline to lose your luggage. I checked one bag on my recent two-week trip to Spain that didn’t arrive when I did. Luckily, I had outfitted my bag with an Apple AirTag, which allowed me to retrieve my bag quickly, despite airline incompetence.
Filing a lost luggage claim
Upon arrival in Barcelona, my checked bag did not arrive. Many airlines, including Air France, use a third-party ground services company to manage lost luggage at the Barcelona airport. I waited patiently in line at the luggage window to file my claim, which took nearly an hour.
While it took a while, the woman at the luggage desk was friendly and helpful. She stated that my luggage missed my connection in Paris and would arrive in Barcelona on a flight the following morning. She also told me that because of my Platinum frequent flyer status, my bag would have priority delivery, and it would arrive at my hotel before noon the next day.
While this gave me confidence that my bag would arrive before my journey began, I checked the location of my bag using the Find My app on my iPhone. The AirTag in my bag still said it was at my departure airport in Seattle.
The AirTag knew more than the airlines
The AirTag sends out a Bluetooth signal to passersby with Apple devices, which allows you to track it in the Find My app. At first, I assumed that maybe my bag was in an airport location where no one approached with an Apple device.
However, the bag remained in Seattle and was detected every few minutes. Perhaps the AirTag detached from the bag? Unlikely, as it was secured inside the bag. The next morning came and went, and the bag didn’t arrive in Spain.
The next afternoon, however, the bag was no longer being detected at the Seattle airport. I suspected that it might be on a flight and was correct. About nine hours later, the AirTag appeared at the Paris airport. And a few hours after that, it was located at the Barcelona airport.
I’m not sure why I was told by the airline that my bag was initially in Paris. The bag got left behind in Seattle and went on the same flight the following day.
I was given a phone number and a website to track the status of my bag. Both used an automated system, but the status of my bag never changed. For nearly 48 hours, it said, “Still locating your bag. Check back later.” My AirTag disagreed and showed the bag at the Barcelona airport, reporting its status every few minutes, so I made a trip with my iPhone in hand.
Upon arrival at the airport, I followed the location in the Find My app, which led me back to the luggage counter where I filed my claim and the same friendly attendant at the desk. She initially tried to find the bag on the computer without luck. But my bag was a mere five feet away from her in plain sight, which I pointed out.
I’m not sure why my bag wasn’t scanned at the Barcelona airport or why their computer system didn’t know where it was, but the AirTag saved the day and prevented a last-minute clothes shopping spree.
Carry on all difficult to replace camera gear
My most essential rule for photography travel is to carry on all necessary photography equipment. While it might be possible to replace your socks or underwear at your destination, the prospect of replacing camera batteries, chargers, or tripods is unlikely in many locations. It is also an airline requirement that you carry all of your lithium batteries with you in your carry-on luggage.
I did pack my tripod and camera strap in my checked luggage for this particular trip. I could do without them if I had to, but that isn’t always the case, so double-check that you have all critical camera gear in your carry-on luggage.
Tracking devices are helpful to the intrepid traveler
Having a tracking device in your checked luggage can be a huge advantage when things go wrong. There is some moderate annoyance, having to silence “item left behind” alerts every time you leave your hotel, but the benefit outweighs that hassle. There is also a bit of satisfaction when you know more about the situation than your airline.
I recommend a device like the AirTag or similar for traveling photographers to improve your chances of luggage recovery.