AirTag continues to make up for United’s incompetence when checked bag goes ‘missing’


We’ve seen countless stories of Apple’s AirTag item tracker being used to track down lost luggage. A new story this week once again details how a pair of airline travelers used AirTag to find their “lost” checked bag and once again reveals an impressive level of United Airlines’ incompetence.

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Last month, a magician revealed how he used AirTag to locate his missing luggage, which United Airlines had left laying on the tarmac. The twist to that story, however, was that United employees refused to go retrieve the bag, so he bought a second plane ticket and took matters into his own hands.

This week’s story follows a similar thread, with an even more dramatic solution. As detailed by CNN, Sandra Shuster and her 15-year-old daughter Ruby were traveling from Baltimore to Denver with a layover at O’Hare airport in Chicago. When they landed in Denver, however, their checked bag with Ruby’s $2,000 worth of lacrosse equipment was nowhere to be found.

United representatives told them that their bag would arrive from Chicago on the next flight to Denver at 8:30 a.m. When this didn’t happen, Shuster called United’s support department and got a completely different story.

This time, Shuster was told that the bag was in Baltimore, not Chicago, but would still be arriving later that day on one of two flights. Unbeknownst to United, however, the bag was equipped with an AirTag, which revealed that the bag was in Chicago, not Baltimore. In fact, the bag was sitting at the baggage reclaim area of O’Hare.

“This is unique equipment, and we have to check it. Airlines are getting worse, rates of lost luggage are getting higher, and I wanted to know where it was – so I bought the tag,” Shuster told CNN.

At this point, she realized United was giving her the runaround and really had no idea where the bag was or when it would arrive. She told United that the bag was in Chicago and asked them to contact the United team at O’Hare but was told that they are “not allowed” to do that.

“I told them I could see it at Terminal 1 baggage reclaim in Chicago, and they said ‘We have no record of it.’ I asked them to call Chicago, and they said ‘No, we’re not allowed.’ They said they’d put notes in the system and the baggage team would take care of it,” Shuster explained.

United then tried to claim that Shuster had the wrong claim number for the bag, which turned out to be partially true. The United check-in agent in Baltimore had attached the wrong tag to Shuster’s bag. They had attached the tag for another passenger traveling only from Baltimore to Chicago, which is why Shuster’s bag was unloaded and sent to baggage claim in Chicago instead of sent on to her final destination of Denver.

United then told Shuster that just because the AirTag was in Chicago, that didn’t necessarily mean the bag itself was in Chicago. She was told to file a claim, accept the reimbursement from the airline, and move on.

Shuster, however, was determined to track down the bag and her daughter’s lacrosse equipment. Her solution? Book a flight to Chicago using her miles and head to baggage claim. She did exactly that and found her bag at baggage claim within 30 seconds of arriving.

She then started the process of trying to get reimbursed for the miles she used to book the flights to and from Chicago. It wasn’t until CNN reached out to United for a comment that Shuster actually received the reimbursement of 30,000 miles.

Unfortunately, this bag was incorrectly tagged at the start of the trip which contributed to the longer delay – we’ve apologized to Ms. Shuster, reimbursed the miles used and gave her an additional travel credit to use toward a future flight. Our teams work to reconnect our customers with their baggage as quickly as possible and we regret that we could not get this bag to Denver sooner.

Shuster reflected on the situation in her interview with CNN:

What was difficult to comprehend was that it would have taken one call to Chicago to locate it, and nobody seemed able to do that. Why couldn’t the guy at baggage claim in Denver call Chicago? It would have taken one minute. It was a huge hassle for me to take the day off work and use my miles.

And there was no apology at any point – apart from a Twitter message saying ‘we know this has been frustrating and making you anxious.’ You can’t tell me in this day and age, with all the technology available, that they can’t figure this stuff out. Airlines need to do better.

9to5Mac’s Take

One thing that seems clear is that airlines are under more pressure than ever before to track down lost luggage, thanks in large part to AirTags.

Whether or not airlines actually make systemic changes to cut down on the number of stories like this one remains to be seen. I’m doubtful. We already saw one airline claim they were banning AirTags from its flights, then quickly walk back those plans.

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