Where Your Luggage Goes After Check In

Have you ever wondered what happens to your luggage once you’ve fondly farewelled that suitcase containing all the dreams and expectations of your upcoming trip? In the first of a series of articles, I will investigate the what happens to our luggage at the airport.

So, you’ve managed to navigate your way through the airport traffic, luggage in hand and made your way to the check in counter – all appears in order, passport checks out, the visual check meets the criteria for verification, your boarding pass is issued, luggage is weighed, a tag is affixed to the bag, the stub is yours – then you watch as your luggage disappears onto a conveyor belt not to be seen again until landing at the destination - or so you hope!

Once the luggage containing many much loved and practical items for your trip is seized by the conveyor belt, it then merges with the masses of many other hundreds or thousands of pieces of luggage which travel through the bowels of the airport every hour, all destined to be reunited with their owners in some far away land.

After traveling through a labyrinth of trails guided by a network of conveyor belts, items of luggage first arrive into what can only be described as a warehousing facility, which is fitted with a number of x-ray machines, scanning devices, visual and physical inspection points, found at most major international airports.

Should a suitcase hold cause for suspicion, these static points allow searches to be undertaken for items including explosives, drugs or illegal weapons. Searches can be undertaken manually, or by using a combination of tactical search methods, including sniffer dogs and swabbing of suitcases.


During travel along the conveyor, items are sorted in batch allocations which identify the airline and flight on which the bag is traveling. Once the luggage is deemed non-suspicious, it is manually loaded onto motorized wagons by baggage handlers to join the luggage of other passengers on board the flight in which you are scheduled to travel. Bags are manually loaded into the hold of the airplane, rain or shine.

In order to minimize the chances of your luggage being removed from the transition process from the point of check in, until it boards the plane, there are a number of ways in which you can do this by ensuring:

  1. Do not carrying any prohibited items in your luggage.
  2. Familiarizing yourself with the travel regulations of the airline and the airline authority in the country of departure.
  3. Don’t overload your bag, ever.
  4. Carry prescription medicines, electronic and other items of value in carry-on baggage only.
  5. Take a photo of your luggage and luggage tag at check-in, should your bag be lost or stolen you have a point of reference.
  6. Prior to traveling, ensure any old travel tags are removed before heading to the airport.
  7. Get a tag, affix it to your luggage with only your name and mobile number detailed on the tag, in the event the bag is taken in error. If the suitcase has an external pocket, place a second tag inside it.
  8. Avoid a late, or last check in scenario.
  9. Ensure any lose belts, pockets and fasteners are secured and not draping off the suitcase as these items may become caught on the conveyor belt.
  10. Don’t get too close to the luggage weight limit, by always allowing for a margin of error as not all scales are equal.

Lost Luggage

There you are standing around your fellow travelers fighting for the closest access to the luggage carousel, anxiously anticipating the arrival of your belongings. Alas, as the last piece of luggage is offloaded from the belt, and you realize the airline has lost your luggage. So, what to do?

Firstly, retrieve the baggage claim ticket, if you’ve misplaced it, revert to the photo stored in your phone that was taken earlier – see tip 5. Make your way to the counter, which is usually located adjacent to the carousel area.


Pull out a pen and complete the paperwork, and if you are lucky the luggage has been caught up on the conveyor somewhere or it’s fallen off the belt altogether. Alternatively, the second-best outcome is that its ended up on the wrong flight, and while you may be a few days without your possessions, all is not completely lost. Once located, the airline will forward your luggage to the hotel.

Orphaned Luggage

In the event your luggage doesn’t make it onto the same flight as you, instead remaining in the airport or being placed on the wrong flight altogether the best hope is to cross your fingers and pray you will be reunited with your goodies in the coming days.

If you’ve failed to observe tip 7 – you and your luggage may well have gone their separate ways permanently. In most instances airlines allow up to 90 days for luggage that remains unclaimed, after which the contents can be donated to charity, or more likely auctioned.

Stolen Luggage

The worst-case scenario for most travelers however is if someone has by accident, or deliberately taken your luggage off the carousel and departed with your possessions. Depending on the airlines own policies, and that of the conditions of your pre-paid travel insurance, you may be entitled to some form of compensation.

Always be sure to read the fine print pertaining to any insurance, by selecting the best policy for your circumstances. In the event you suspect your luggage has been stolen, it’s important to report to the baggage claim counter and complete the required documentation. In most instances, once you’ve left the airport a claim will no longer be classed as an airline matter rather, it becomes a matter for the local police.

What Are The Odds?

According to a CNN analysis of passenger property loss of theft of luggage from airport carousels, both passengers and airport visitors alike have been caught in the act of stealing at this location alone, and whilst the chances of this occurring are relatively low, it continues to be a problem at many airports internationally.

In Seattle, 214 luggage thefts from carousels and other airport locations were reported in 2014, with 200 in Las Vegas, 36 in Atlanta, 35 in Phoenix, 15 At Washington International and 14 at Dulles International airports respectively.

Sandra Hawkins

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