Where Your Luggage Goes On A Layover

Have you ever wondered what happens to luggage once a suitcase has disappeared from view at the airport? On a single leg flight there is not much to be concerned about, however in consideration of taking a connecting flight where a layover period is required a more unique set of circumstances arise. This article investigates what happens to luggage during a layover.

What's The Difference Between A Layover And A Stopover?

A layover is defined as a stop or transfer from one aircraft to another allowing for a long break between flights. The period of a layover is generally defined as four hours using a domestic route, and up to a period of twenty-four hours on international flights which is referred to as a stopover.

Domestic Layover - Single Itinerary

A domestic layover is a relatively common type of layover and is a simple process in most airports around the world. Considering both flights were booked together when arriving at the check in counter, boarding passes for both flights will be issued, together with luggage tags for each item of checked baggage. On arrival at the layover airport, it’s a simple matter of checking the departures board and heading to the gate lounge to await the next flight.

Domestic Layover - Dual Itinerary

If a passenger has booked separate flights either on another airline, or on the same airline and the tickets were not purchased as a single itinerary, the passenger will be required to collect luggage from the baggage carousel and make their way to check in counter for the second leg of the journey. All luggage will be checked in, tagged and a boarding pass issued.

International Layover - Single Itinerary

Similar to that of the scenario on a domestic trip with a layover, if the itinerary has been booked using a single airline, or one which has a partnership arrangement in most instances, luggage will be checked in for the final destination and boarding pass/es will be issued.

International Layover - Dual Or Multiple Itinerary

If travel to the destination has been booked using two or more different airlines where no partnership arrangements are provided, the passenger will be required to collect their luggage from the baggage carousel and make their way to the check in counter at the second and subsequent airports.

International Customs And Immigration Control On Layovers And Stopovers

It’s always prudent to check with the airline, the airport or the country requirements prior to departure to ensure no wrong decisions are made which could potentially end up causing any number of serious problems. Most countries now require passengers to pass through the transit gate or transfer area prior to making their way to the next gate point.


Checked bags on a single itinerary are not normally required to be collected prior, however on dual or multiple itineraries, bags collected at the luggage carousel are required to be searched and x-rayed. Passport and travel documents will also be validated prior to heading to the new gate due to the global threat which is now present in society. Passengers traveling on international flights comprising long layovers or stopovers are not necessarily required to collect their luggage and re-check their baggage prior to flying the next leg of the journey.

What Happens To Luggage During A Layover?

There are a number of variables to consider including the airline/s and airport policies. A connecting flight comprising a layover perhaps even an overnight layover, means there is a high possibility the airline has not checked your luggage through to its final destination.

Some airlines allow passengers to collect luggage during this period - to access items inside, such as clothing etc., however it’s not advisable to do this. It’s worth packing a change of clothes in a carry-on bag to avoid any potential complications, resulting in luggage being delayed or possibly lost. Passengers choosing to collect their luggage will of course be required to re-check the items again later.

What Happens To Luggage On A Connecting Flight?

As some flights are not of the non-stop variety, they may be just touching down for only a short period of time to refuel so there’s no need to collect luggage as its been checked through to the final destination. However, checked luggage may not be headed to its final destination if a passenger has connecting flights using different airlines. Check with the carrier to confirm.

Where Does Luggage Go?

When it comes to luggage, the job of an airline is to:

1. Relocate bags from the check in area to the departure gate.

2. Relocate bags from one gate to another during transfer.

3. Move bags from the arrival gate to the baggage claim area.

4. Undertake these processes as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Most large airports today use some type of baggage handling system to transport checked luggage from ticket counters to a location where luggage can then be loaded directly onto an airplane. These systems have grown to become quite complex as they are required to meet a number of other demands aside from that of just relocating luggage from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’, including;

  • detecting bag jams,
  • luggage volume regulation,
  • load balancing,
  • bag counting,
  • bag tracking,
  • redirection of bags using the push or diversion method
  • automatic tag reading.

Since 9/11 most airports around the world also utilize additional screening methods including the use of CBIS – which sorts luggage based upon an assigned security status, once the luggage has passed through the Explosive Detection System (EDS) machines. In the US these standards are reviewed annually in line with the ever-emerging risk and changes in society.

As automation processes have improved and will continue to do so, many large airports now utilize technologies including using Destination-Coded-Vehicles (DCV) – these are unmanned carts, propelled using linear induction motors mounted to tracks which load and unload luggage without stopping, unlike a human.

Automatic scanners scan the labels affixed to luggage, while the conveyors equipped with numerous junction points are fitted with sorting machines to automatically route luggage to the gate. These systems represent a huge investment towards airport infrastructure in an industry where time is money, and delay has the potential to cause a knock-on effect costing the industry millions of dollars. More and more airlines and airports acknowledge the importance of such an investment. One airport, Denver International, has more than 30 kilometers (19 miles) of track containing more than 8 kilometers (5 miles) of conveyors using 4,000 DCV’s – Destination Coded Vehicles.

During check-in, an agent will search for your itinerary on the computer, then print out the boarding pass and a luggage tag, containing all flight information including a ten-digit barcode number. This is the unique number assigned to each piece of checked luggage. The first stop for luggage after the check in process is completed is through the automated bar scanning station, where an array of 360 degree scanners are mounted around the conveyor to collect the data on the affixed tag.


It’s is accurate around 90% of the time in its ability to find and collect the tag information. Any remaining bags - 10% are then re-routed to another conveyor where luggage tags are manually scanned. Once luggage has been scanned its then able to be tracked to any location throughout the baggage facility. Each bag is routed to its appropriate designation, using the network of conveyor belt systems.

Luggage heading out on international flights are directed to areas for x-ray and other security measures. As luggage travels through the network of conveyors, they are routed through junction points at which time they pass through a pusher, which lets the luggage pass through, or pushes it onto another conveyor. Luggage may travel through hundreds of pushers during its journey to the gate where the plane is waiting.

Much like a highway off ramp, luggage is selected to exit the conveyor at the correct gate directly onto the DCV’s, which are favored by airports where passengers are able to quickly reach their assigned gate. A DCV can travel up to 20 miles per hour (32 kilometers) which is up to 5 times faster than the conveyor. Baggage handlers load the bags onto carts (sometimes special containers), which are then loaded manually into the hold of the plane.

Luggage which will transfer after the flight has landed are placed into separate areas than the bags destined for the baggage claim area on landing. Luggage which is transferred are again loaded onto conveyors, where they again travel through scanning stations, then routed onward using the DCV track.

The DCV then transports luggage to the correct gate, where they are unloaded and reloaded into the hold of the plane by the baggage handlers. Luggage destined for the baggage claim area are loaded into carts and loaded onto the baggage carousel for collection.

Sandra Hawkins

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