Travelers turn to GPS trackers as lost luggage continues to clog Sea-Tac Airport

SEATTLE — Monday brought another very busy day to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, where travelers are now in the return rush home after the holiday weekend.

While flights are largely back to normal, the lost bag woes continue, with people still struggling to reunite with their luggage.

Now some people are taking keeping their bags safe into their own hands by using GPS trackers.

On the baggage claim floor, stacks of suitcases sit outside each airline’s office.

“Apparently, it got lost in Dallas somewhere,” said Dawn Cladwell, who returned home to the Seattle area last week – without her bag. She was back at the airport on Monday after the airline called, saying they’d found it.

But other people haven’t been as lucky.

“It’s chaotic. You see a lot of frustrated people,” said Alec Martin, who was back at SEA for a second time on Monday to look for his bag.

The problem is lingering from the Christmas weather chaos nationwide, plus the unprecedented Southwest Airlines cancelations.

“I checked in on the 29th, they take my bag, and the bag goes away,” said Joe Debell, another traveler. But then his connecting flight got canceled. “It has all my Christmas presents in it. That’s the worst part about it,” he said.

None of these travelers KIRO 7 spoke with at SEA on Monday used any sort of GPS tracker.

“That would be smart. Maybe that should be our plan from now on. We put snowboards, skis, all our coats into one bag,” said Andrew Host, who was worried he also lost his bag.

Valerie Szybala, who was flying from Chicago to Washington D.C. after an international trip, did use a GPS tracker – specifically, an Apple AirTag.

“First time ever (using one),” Szybala said. “Turns out it really was worth it. I’m so glad,” she said.

Her bag got lost, and she started tweeting about its journey. The saga went viral; the initial tweet got over 16 million views.

She tracked her bag to an apartment complex that had other empty suitcases abandoned outside, a McDonald’s and a shopping center.

“You feel very violated to know that people are lying to you and saying ‘we have your bag,’ and they don’t. And you can see it on the tracker, and it’s doing crazy stuff,” Szybala said.

In November, KIRO 7 investigated the worsening problem of bag thefts at SEA airport and tested out GPS trackers. Port of Seattle Detective Darin Beam says he recommends you use one.

“I think they’re fantastic,” Beam said. “I use them myself.”

Between the Apple AirTag, a Tile Pro, and the LandAirSea 54 GPS, the Apple AirTag came out on top – with the fewest glitches.

Szybala ended up getting her bag back from a courier.

“I think without the tracker and without a tweet thread going viral, I wouldn’t have my bag back today,” she said. “This end part of the process was a madhouse, and it needs to be fixed – it’s not acceptable,” Szybala said.

She said in the future, she would have had the airline hold the bag at the airport instead of choosing the delivery option.

Even without a tracker, some of the people we spoke with at SEA still left with smiles.

“My Christmas gifts have arrived. We’re good to go – a success story!” DeBell said.

About Szybala’s case, United Airlines said in a statement, “The service our baggage delivery vendor provided does not meet our standards, and we are investigating what happened to lead to this service failure.”

Seattle-based Alaska Airlines said in the wake of the winter storms, “Our Alaska team worked hard to reunite guests with their bags, and we are pleased to say that we’ve returned 10,000 bags to their owners. We are fully staffed in Seattle, and last week we augmented with additional management staff to get through all the baggage returns.”