A former baggage handler explains what happens to your bag from point A to B.
Toronto-based aviation worker Manpreet Singh, while writing on a Quora Q&A, explains what happens to your bag from the check-in desk to the carousel, and outlines how you can best protect your belongings while they’re not in your care.
It’s really hard for airport staff to steal and if they do, they’ll be caught
“For someone to steal from your luggage is quite rare these days, but it does happen. The use of CCTV in bag rooms and even some aircraft holds have eliminated temptations for certain kinds of baggage handlers. There are way too many people working in bag rooms for someone to be able to get away with stealing,” he writes, adding: “Ground handling companies keep close watch on their employees, and if they notice that theft is reported on a certain employee’s shift frequently, an undercover investigation is launched,” he writes. “The majority of the times the thief is caught and prosecuted.”
Top causes for damage to luggage
Luggage does get damaged on occasion, not by staff by during transport. Most often, bags are damaged due to passenger error. Other reasons include:
Suitcase fabric gets caught in conveyer belts
“Suitcases get torn to shreds and people’s things scattered all over belts. If you’re still using a suitcase from the 70s, you’re just asking for your things to go missing.”
If you’re worried about this happening to your bag, maybe a hard-shell suitcase is the way to go.
“Just because your suitcase barely closes, doesn’t mean it’s going to hold. I’ve seen on a daily basis at least one suitcase half open with the person’s stuff hanging out. These are the people who claim things went missing from their bag.”
Overpacking will not end well for you, so travel a little lighter.
“There’s a solid metal arm that hits bags onto the right laterals. Without it there would be no way to get bags onto the right laterals. This can cause serious damage to weak or over-packed suitcases.”
In other words, don’t store fragile items or expensive wine in your checked bag – it’s highly likely to end up all over your clothes.
Damaged during transport
“This is probably one of the main reasons luggage can go missing or become badly damaged. I’ve seen bags fall out of luggage carts during transport and I’ve run over them by accident. There’s no way to just swerve out the way, [as I would] probably hit an airplane in the process of avoiding dropped bags.”
Baggage carts operate in a loud environment, so drivers may not hear a dropped bag. Also, while keeping an eye out for planes, other baggage carts and ground crew, your bag, unfortunately, becomes a lower priority.
Damaged in aircraft holds
“Chances are your luggage is being thrown around underneath your seat. Sad truth for all you picky travellers, baggage handlers don’t care about your bag. They deal with hundreds sometimes even a thousand in a day, so it really is just another number. From the aft cargo door to the end of the pit of a 737–800 is roughly 25–30 feet. That bag being unloaded needs to be thrown from the back, to the door.”
The lesson here is to not pack fragile items in your checked bag.
“Uncommon but not unheard of, there have been reports to some airlines of damage to people’s luggage during flight. Not sure how exactly, but I assume during take-off or during turbulent times of flight. Some airlines use stop blocks in aircraft holds, but they’re pretty ineffective.”
Some baggage handlers may be careless with your luggage, but …
“… animals are treated extremely carefully. Baggage handlers love animals, believe it or not, and we are human, after all. I remember on cold winter days when rookies used to drop animals in baggage carts early and they would be freezing outside. I always brought them into the nearest heated area. Senior workers know to keep them inside until at least the flight that comes in is empty. We would talk to dogs inside the baggage compartments to keep them calm and we strapped their cages correctly so they wouldn’t move anywhere.
“We had a worker who had about three months of experience dropping an animal off on the wrong flight, and it sat outside for a bit over an hour in winter weather. The worker was fired the next day. Unions can’t do much in situations like that.”
Will your bag go missing?
“I’d say your chances of being hit by a car crossing the street would be higher than your entire bag going missing. It’s very rare for an entire bag to go missing.”
“There are many possible things that can happen to your bag when you check it in, but for the most part it is secure and safe. You have pretty much nothing to worry about.”
What are your tips for baggage safe passage?
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