10 tips for retrieving your luggage at baggage claim

by Ned Levi on March 11, 2013

Photo by TheeErin, http://www.flickr.com/photos/theeerin/

It’s a sad story, played out over and over again at airports across the globe.

In Phoenix, police uncovered 1,000 pieces of stolen luggage at a suburban Phoenix home which had been plucked off Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport’s baggage carousels.

At Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, police stationed at the airport admitted to a business traveler whose luggage was stolen off the baggage carousel there that luggage theft at “Hartsfield” is an “epidemic” and “out of control.”

Late last year, Orlando International Airport decided to spend $5M to upgrade existing baggage claim areas, in large part to increase security and reduce thefts at baggage claim.

With so many reports of luggage thefts at baggage claim, it might seem as though we’re powerless to prevent the thefts of our luggage and their valuable contents, but there is actually much we can do.

Only use carry-on bags — Pack “light” if you can. Using only carry-on keeps you away from baggage claim and its luggage theft problems. It will also speed your departure from the airport and possibly save you the cost of checked luggage fees.

Keep your valuables in your carry-on luggage — As discussed in my column last week, What you shouldn’t pack in your checked luggage when flying, never pack valuables, breakables, electronics, travel documents, cash or credit cards and prescription medications in checked luggage. Keeping them safe in your carry-on is essential, especially considering the airlines won’t compensate you for their loss.

Make your luggage easily identifiable — Thieves don’t want to draw attention to themselves and their actions. It’s easier to walk away unnoticed with your bag if it’s one of those common, nondescript black roller bags. Sometimes, passengers goof and pull bags from the carousel which aren’t theirs if they haven’t done anything to make their bag not look like other passengers’ luggage.

In order to make my luggage stand out on the carousel: it’s not black; I use two, large, brightly colored identification tags attached to each handle; have a brightly colored cloth tied on to a handle and use bright red, numbered luggage seals on each zipper.

Put your baggage claim receipts in a safe place — If your bags are lost, stolen, damaged or delayed, without your baggage claim receipt you’ll likely be denied putting in a luggage claim to the airline and your insurance company. I put the receipts in a zippered pocket in my jacket. As a backup, while waiting to board my flight, I scan them into my smartphone using Genius Scan+.

Know where baggage claim is at your destination airport — You want to try to arrive at baggage claim before your luggage does to prevent it from being stolen. In some airports, baggage claim is a long way from your gate and may require a long walk, turns and stairways and sometimes a ride on a people mover. Signage directing you to baggage claim can be confusing.

Do some research in advance of your flight. Airport websites are often helpful, but I’ve found smartphone apps rarely show baggage claim locations. In-flight magazines sometimes have good terminal maps for many airports.

Listen to your flight attendants — Larger airports can have many baggage claim carousels in more than one room in each terminal. You might want to hold off for a few moments, upon landing, before you retrieve phone messages and make calls, as flight attendants often announce the carousel ID for your flight.

Don’t dally, shop or “window shop” on your way to baggage claim — Along the way to baggage claim, airports have plenty of shops and stands to entice you to dally and spend your money. Don’t. Your mission is to ensure you leave the airport with all your belongings. Go straight to baggage claim. If there are moving walkways to speed you to baggage claim, use them.

Skip the restroom and restaurant on your way to baggage claim, if you can — You want to arrive at baggage claim before your bag. There’s usually a restroom at baggage claim and, seriously, how good is airport food anyway?

You don’t have to stand directly at the luggage chute; be in sight of it — The end of the chute area, where the luggage goes on to the carousel, is usually crowded with passengers having difficulty pushing their way through with retrieved luggage, so ideally move down the carousel a few yards/meters where you can still see the bags coming off the chute. Watch that no one takes your luggage.

Keep your carry-ons and retrieved bags close to you, and use the “buddy system” if traveling with others — Once the bags are coming on to the carousel rapidly, there’s a lot of confusion and activity around it. That’s a perfect time for thieves to quietly snatch unattended bags nearby. Keep your bags close and together. If you’re traveling with someone, “buddy-up!” While you’re retrieving the luggage, have your “buddy” guard your carry-ons and already retrieved luggage.

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  • http://www.freetemplatesonline.com/ Stacy

    wow ! cool post! thanks

  • dcta

    I’ve actually never thought about a strategy for luggage claim, but oddly, I just simply do all the above. don’t know where/when I picked it all up.

  • Carchar

    I found a use for all those name and address labels that I get in the mail. I plaster them wherever they’ll stick on my luggage. Not chic, but very identifiable.

  • pauletteb

    Great advice. My current luggage is red, but that’s become so popular, I’ll be switching to something else when the time comes.

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  • Kimmy

    If you have the time and luxury Fed Ex to your hotel and then back home. My partner did this on his last business trip. It was about the same as paying baggage fees and he didn’t have lug it all over town.

  • TonyA_says

    Become an elite with you airline and use priority baggage.
    Since your bags should come out first, you can easily see it come out from the chute’s outlet.

  • mapsmith

    However some hotels (particularly business hotels) are starting to charge a fee to accept Fedex or UPS Shipments. Probably because they require someone at the Hotel to sign for the shipments which can make them liable for any damage or theft.

  • LFH0

    Generally speaking, Amtrak and Greyhound Lines do a better job with checked baggage security. Both usually examine claim checks before releasing checked baggage from the baggage claim area. However, in the northeastern United States, Greyhound Lines and several other carriers do not check baggage, and the result upon arrival is much like an airport with respect to baggage security.

  • NedLevi

    That’s a great point Tony, if you’re flying non-stop direct. I’ve found, that despite having my checked luggage marked as priority, if I’m making connections, my luggage can come out at anytime. Sometimes even when marked priority it isn’t given priority.

  • NedLevi

    Thanks to everyone for your readership and comments.

  • TonyA_says

    If you interline on a dfferent alliance, you lose the priority luggage perk in my opinion.
    We just did it both ways NYC to ASIA and within ASIA. Perfect on Delta by itself, and on Cathay and JAL Oneworld.

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