Here's How AirTags Work — and Why You Should Get One for Travel

How do AirTags work? We have the explanation, plus reasons they're great for travel.

As travelers faced checked-luggage woes over the past year or so, they turned to AirTags to help keep track of their bags. Made by Apple, these handy Bluetooth tracking devices can track any item they're attached to, whether that's your suitcase, your car, or even your pet. Here's everything you need to know about these handy devices, including how AirTags work.

An AirTag is seen being connected to an iPhone. AirTag is a tracking device developed by Apple.

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How do AirTags work?

A close up of an AirTag keychain on a black backpack

Courtesy of Apple

AirTags are small discs that can be tracked via your iPhone or iPad. Their location is not tracked by GPS, but by Bluetooth. An AirTag emits a Bluetooth signal that privately and securely connects to any device in the Find My network (that's Apple's location-tracking feature), and then its location is triangulated by its connections and sent back to your iPhone.

For instance, imagine your checked bag with an AirTag inside is being transported through an airport. The AirTag will connect to any nearby iPhones — say those in the pockets of baggage handlers — and the location will be beamed back to your iPhone in the Find My app. For those worried about privacy, all AirTags are connected to a single Apple ID, so only those logged into an Apple device with that Apple ID can actually see the location of the AirTag.

Keep in mind that AirTags can only be used by Apple device users — they're not compatible with Androids. If you're looking for a similar device for Androids, try Tile trackers.

How to Set AirTags Up and Use Them

Three Apple iPhone screens showing how AirTags works in the FindMy app

Courtesy of Apple

When you take a new AirTag out of its packaging, it comes with a tab that keeps it from turning on — pull that tab, and the device will wake up. Hold the AirTag near an iPhone or iPad, and a prompt should appear on the screen. Simply follow the prompts to name the AirTag (this can be changed later) and connect it to your Apple ID. And that's it! If your AirTag is already on when you get it, you can enable setup mode by opening the Find My app and clicking on the plus sign.

Then when you open your Find My app, you'll be able to see the current or last-known location of your AirTag. From the app, you can play a sound on the AirTag, enable Lost Item Mode, set up location notifications, or rename the AirTag. 

Why AirTags Are Helpful for Travel

AirTags allow you to see the location of your luggage at pretty much any time, which is particularly beneficial for checked luggage. (Yes, AirTags can safely be checked into a cargo hold!) You'll quickly be able to tell if your bag made it onto your flight, and if it was left behind somewhere, you may be able to provide your airline information about its location to help them retrieve your bag. You can also track the location of your bag if you have porters transferring it from an airport to a hotel or cruise ship.

Other Uses for AirTags

AirTags can be used for tracking essentially anything you can attach it to. Apple makes AirTag holders that can be clipped onto keys or even your pet's collar. You can also attach an AirTag to your bike or leave one in your car, which can not only help you find your parking spot but also help police locate them if they're ever stolen.

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