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One of the most annoying aspects of flying is the fact that most companies charge you an arm and a leg for your bags—either you’re limited to one or charged extra if your bag is over a certain weight limit. So the first item on the list of ten things baggage handlers don’t want you to know is probably no surprise. But read on to see if you can learn something that might save you a few bucks, or at least time and annoyance:

  1. Don’t pack light, we need the money—the airline industry is hurting and the first thing they decided to do to raise profits was to start charging $25 for the first checked bag and $35 for each additional bag.
  2. We’re losing fewer bags, because there are fewer to lose—naturally, if less people are checking their bags because of the cost, then there are less bags for the handlers to lose. However, it sure sounds good when they say they’ve lost fewer bags, doesn’t it?
  3. Some of us have sticky fingers—some travelers have arrived at their destination only to discover that their camera was stolen. However, don’t rely on the airline company to help you out if you find yourself in this situation: most airline companies have a 30-day window for passengers to file claims for missing items. Furthermore, it’s probably no surprise that it takes longer than 30 days for a claim to be processed.
  4. Sure we can handle your pet, but can your pet handle us? If you’re intending to fly with Fido, you might want to check your airline’s policies. Some airlines will allow your pet to fly in the cabin, but others will only let them fly in the cargo hold. Also, the extreme temperatures and loud noises might scare your pet or make it more difficult for them to behave during the flight.
  5. We don’t actually do much—baggage handlers don’t actually do much heavy lifting, scanning of tags, or sorting. Instead, most of these tasks are performed by machines. At most airports, (unless it’s an extremely small one), the baggage handlers are responsible for transferring bags onto the plane from those metal carts you see on the runway.
  6. Not all bags are created equal—it does, in fact, make all the difference to buy a sturdy suitcase. Baggage handlers aren’t exactly careful when they’re lifting your bags, and your suitcase might do better if it’s made out of ballistic nylon or polycarbonate.
  7. Stressing about baggage claim? You should—have you ever wondered what would happen if someone walked off with your suitcase? Well, until your baggage is back in your hands, it is still the responsibility of the airline. Nevertheless, bags are notoriously difficult to track down and impossible to find if they’ve left the airport. Most airlines will negotiate a payment for your belongings (the domestic limit is now $3,300), but it can be difficult to negotiate compensation for international flights where currency values are different.
  8. Many of us don’t actually work for the airlines—not all baggage handlers work for the airlines, instead many may be contractors who work for so-called “group-handling companies”. The problem? If you’re a baggage handler working as a “contractor” you might be making lower wages, and thus have less of an investment in the airline you’re serving at any given point in time.
  9. We can’t handle unusual items—trying to bring something strange back as a memento of your travels? If it’s antlers, don’t try it. When Mark Thomas, a wildlife biologist and avid hunter from Alabama, tried checking antlers at an Alaska airport in 2006, he says, airline workers didn’t want any part of it. Airlines just don’t know how to handle strange items, especially in the wake of 9/11.
  10. If you think we’re bad here, just wait till you go abroad—everything from smuggling to pilfering of your bags can occur in foreign countries. Moreover, security can be particularly lax. Keep your belongings safe by putting on a lock on your suitcase or by wrapping your suitcase in Secure Wrap, plastic wrap sold at many airports.

One Comment

  1. Gravatar for Kimala McConnell
    Kimala McConnell

    I've been working on getting my packing list down to a single carry on for a 7-day cruise and your article has just cemented my resolve. I've been lucky enough to be able to drive to my last few cruise ports, but have to fly for work occassionally. I guess you're confirming what most of us have feared if we would only let ourselves think about it for little bit.

    Now that you've taken the covers off the baggage handlers at the airports, have you given thought to those handlers we have to turn all of our luggage to at the cruise ports? Even when we get everything into a carry on, they still want us to hand over that carry on so they can take it through security then place it in our cabin for us. All while we're enjoying the buffet and sail away party.

    I would love to know what you find.

    Kimala McConnell


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