The AirTag in my suitcase failed me when I needed it most — but it was entirely my fault

Apple AirTag
(Image credit: Apple)

If you do a lot of traveling, odds are you know all about the trend of tossing an AirTag into your suitcase. That way if your checked luggage mysteriously vanishes between the airport and your destination, you at least have the comfort of tracking down where it is — even if the airline can’t.

The idea that I can double check which country my luggage is in, before it hits the baggage carousel, has always been rather comforting. There’s no need to stand there wondering whether your bag actually made your flight, and if you’re going to have to start your trip by buying some bare essentials.

If you’re going to do this with your own luggage, I implore you not to make the same mistake I did. Because it bit me in the behind right when I needed that Apple AirTag the most.

When AirTags fail — and it’s all your fault

Apple AirTag

(Image credit: Future)

Last December I took an extended weekend break in Denmark. It’s only an hour away by plane, so it's relatively easy trip to do if you need a quick getaway. Even in December, when the sun sets before 4pm.

Everything was going so well until I disembarked the plane in Billund, only to receive a text message saying that my bags had not made the flight.

Whether you spend an hour in the air or 10, that is not the kind of message you want to see when you get off a plane. My first thought was to reach for my iPad and try to figure out what happened. If I could track down the AirTag in my suitcase, I would at least find out where it was. 

To my horror, Apple’s Find My app could only register my iPad, which was in my hands, and my spare iPhone which was sitting on my desk over 500 miles away. The AirTag had vanished from my account.

While my first response was to wait and see if there had been a mistake, and then to contact British Airways in the hopes of retrieving my bag, I later made it my mission to figure out why Apple had decided my AirTag no longer existed.

It didn’t take long to figure out that I’d completely neglected to check the AirTag’s battery when I was packing. According to Apple, an AirTag is only supposed to last a year before the battery needs changing. My AirTag entered service roughly 14 months earlier, ahead of a vacation to Florida in October 2022.

That AirTag was well and truly dead. It was no more, it had ceased to be. It had expired and had gone to meet its maker. This was because I got complacent and forgot to check whether the thing still had power before I zipped up my suitcase the previous day.

Not only did this mean I couldn’t check where my luggage was, I also couldn’t check up on whether British Airways was being truthful when they promised that my bag would be arriving on a flight the following afternoon. Considering I was only there for two nights, I didn’t want to run the risk of the bag arriving right as I was about to head home.

Make sure your AirTag is still alive before you go to the Airport 

Apple AirTag

(Image credit: Future)

The crazy thing is I could have rectified it right away if I had noticed. I have so many small electronic gadgets that rely on CR2032 batteries that I always keep an ample supply in the kitchen drawer. When I eventually got home, swapping the battery and getting the AirTag connected to my Apple ID again took no time at all.

It also takes about 30 seconds to figure out whether your AirTag still has power leftover as well. I tend to find that the thing starts beeping as soon as I start moving my suitcase out of the attic , likely because it’s not connected to any of my devices via Bluetooth up there. 

Alternatively you can just check the Find My app to see if a) your AirTag shows up as within range and b) it starts beeping when you tap the “Play Sound” button. 

While the Find My app doesn’t tell you how much battery the tag has left, you’ll know for sure that it’s still alive for the time being. But if the battery is inching closer to its 12 month anniversary, there’s no harm in swapping it out for a fresh power cell and resetting the clock.

Really that should be one of those things that becomes routine before you travel. Like making doubly sure you have your passport, locking all the windows and doors or making sure you have enough chargers to power every family member’s devices.

Will it stop your bags getting lost, or accidentally left behind? Absolutely not. These things are going to happen, and no amount of smart gadgetry can ensure someone at the airline or airport doesn’t screw everything up. But at least you’ll have the peace of mind of knowing where they really are, and whether the airline is telling you the truth or not.

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Tom Pritchard
UK Phones Editor

Tom is the Tom's Guide's UK Phones Editor, tackling the latest smartphone news and vocally expressing his opinions about upcoming features or changes. It's long way from his days as editor of Gizmodo UK, when pretty much everything was on the table. He’s usually found trying to squeeze another giant Lego set onto the shelf, draining very large cups of coffee, or complaining about how terrible his Smart TV is.

  • BadPhD
    The AirTag uses a CR2032, not a CR2302. A trick I use to help my battery last longer since I don't use it very often is to remove the battery when I'm not using the AirTag.
    Reply
  • Tom Pritchard
    BadPhD said:
    The AirTag uses a CR2032, not a CR2302. A trick I use to help my battery last longer since I don't use it very often is to remove the battery when I'm not using the AirTag.
    Silly typo, thanks for the spot that's been fixed.
    Good tip about the battery though, so long as you remember to put it back in!
    Reply
  • LexxR
    The find my app does give you low battery notifications (make sure you have find my app has notification and location permission)

    but that said I always put the month year as part of the name like "dog (04/23)" so I am aware when it only has 2-3 months remaining or using bad battery (usually get 1 year 3 months out of each battery) Panasonic cr2032 seem to work the best (can't use duracell due to the brita coating and bad design of the airtag battery Contact points)
    Reply
  • BadPhD
    Tom Pritchard said:
    Silly typo, thanks for the spot that's been fixed.
    Good tip about the battery though, so long as you remember to put it back in!
    I leave the AirTag disassembled so it's obvious the battery is out so I don't make a silly mistake (or I would!)
    Reply
  • skofarrell
    You also missed that your phone warned you for quite a long time that the AirTag battery was going low. At least that's what my air tags do...
    Reply