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TravelTips to help you breeze through baggage claim

Tips to help you breeze through baggage claim


Nobody likes baggage claim areas. They’re crowded, often cavernous and full of people either ready to start their trip or worn out from a long flight and trying to get back home.

The obvious way to avoid baggage claim would be to not check any bags in the first place and instead take only carry-on luggage. That’s not always feasible, though. Sometimes, you want (or need) to check a bag.

When you fall into that category, you’ll inevitably find yourself in the baggage claim area, which is rarely the highlight of any trip. However, there are ways to make the experience a little less bothersome.

Here are our tips for surviving a visit to the baggage carousel and getting your bag quickly. This will increase your odds of having a relatively painless baggage claim experience.

Related: How to avoid checked baggage fees on major domestic airlines

Make sure your bag is properly tagged

The first step to getting through baggage claim as quickly as possible is something you can do before you’ve even taken off: Double-check that your bag has been correctly tagged when you check it in.

It’s easy for your mind to wander at this point when you just want to get through to the nearest lounge. Still, it’s important to watch that the airline (or yourself, if you’re self-tagging your bag) has tagged it properly to your final destination.

Also, don’t forget to remove any old tags before arriving at the airport. Leaving them on could easily cause confusion once your luggage reaches baggage handlers. If you are eligible for any priority or elite tag designations on your bag, make sure the airline attendant attaches them; if they don’t, politely ask them to.

While you’re at it, make sure your name and phone number are attached to the bag in at least two locations … just in case.

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Related: These are the checked bags carried by TPG’s staff

Toss in an AirTag or other luggage tracker

Knowing where your checked bag is not only gives you peace of mind but can also decrease your time at baggage claim. The easiest way to keep track of luggage is by tossing an AirTag or other tracker in your checked bag before turning it over to the airline. This can help you determine if it arrived in the right city and potentially even help you track it down within the baggage claim area if it doesn’t come out on the expected carousel.

SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

An AirTag saved me at the end of the busy holiday travel period when suitcases were piled up with little rhyme or reason in the baggage claim area of George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH). Thanks to my trusty AirTag, I was able to find my bag far on the opposite side of the building by a carousel where I did not expect it to be.

Spend the $24 on an AirTag, and you won’t regret your life choices later.

Don’t look like everyone else

Standing out in a crowd isn’t just a fashion statement; it helps your bag out, too.

Don’t be the 20th nondescript black rollaboard on your flight. If you use a bag that looks similar to others, do something to differentiate it. Consider adding a colorful ribbon, a bold bag tag or another unique accessory.

ZOFF-PHOTO/GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOTO

The next time you shop for a new bag, choose a bold, bright or limited-time pattern instead of the standard black rollaboard. By having unusual luggage, there’s far less chance that someone will accidentally take your bag (believe us, this really does happen). You’ll also be able to easily spot it from a distance and make a beeline for it once it hits the conveyer belt.

Make sure you’re at the right carousel — really

Being at the right baggage carousel sounds like a no-brainer tip. However, when locating the right carousel requires checking a screen in a crowded baggage claim area (and rechecking it to ensure your designated carousel hasn’t changed), it’s easy to head to the wrong carousel.

Stay alert for any changes as to where the bags will offload. This is not always announced, so if it’s been more than a few minutes and nothing is happening, make sure you’re in the right spot.

In the event of a luggage apocalypse where bags are piling up, pay extra attention to announcements. Monitor showing where bags are being placed, as the airport may send some bags from your flight to an alternate carousel to help with a backlog. Be ready to look around if your bag isn’t coming off in a timely manner — and ideally, check those AirTags.

TOBIAS SCHWARZ/GETTY IMAGES

Related: Last one standing at the carousel: Here are your odds of your bag being lost or delayed

Position yourself where you can see the bags coming down

Things happen, and folks sometimes accidentally grab the wrong bag. You’ll save yourself time and hassle by being in a spot where you can see the bags for your flight as they come down the chute — especially if you’ve taken our earlier advice of carrying a bright and bold bag.

This doesn’t mean you have to jockey for a spot right in front of the chute like an offensive lineman guarding the quarterback. Just be sure you pick a spot where you can look for your luggage, like the avid bag spotter you are. This way, you can easily grab your bag as it comes down.

Remember to verify that it is indeed your bag before you leave the airport. It’s much easier to fix a mix-up there than having to trail back.

Related: Stop behaving badly at baggage claim: Etiquette tips from the experts

Start the clock

No one wants to hang around the baggage claim area. However, there isn’t enough space on many planes for everyone to bring a carry-on.

To address this situation, some airlines have a fun incentive for checking a bag. Delta Air Lines and Alaska Airlines will give you 2,500 bonus miles if your checked bags aren’t out on the carousel within 20 minutes of the aircraft door opening.

There are a few rules about that guarantee, but overall, it’s pretty easy to snag some bonus points if the bags take longer than 20 minutes to arrive on those airlines.

You can find out more about the policies on Delta’s website and Alaska’s website.

Keep looking (and don’t leave empty-handed)

There are times when you can do everything listed here and still find yourself at the losing end of a trip to baggage claim. Before giving up and accepting that you lost this round, do a final look around all the carousels and potential piles of bags near the carousels. Also, check the area where the larger bags and specialty items (like car seats and skis) come out.

If you have an AirTag, see what the last known location is for your bag. If it shows it is in the baggage claim area, keep looking.

After you’ve hit dead ends with all of the above, talk to your airline’s baggage claim office or attendant. See if they can help track your bag’s location via your boarding pass and baggage claim stickers. If your bag really isn’t there, start the paperwork process of reporting a missing bag before you leave.

The airline may be able to give you something like a car seat to use if needed. Know, too, that this is when delayed and lost baggage compensation from the airline or even your credit cards may kick in.

Related: 7 steps to take when an airline loses your luggage

Bottom line

If you don’t like spending time at baggage claim, use these tips to make your visit as quick and painless of a stop on your journey as possible.

Now that you’re armed with the knowledge to get in, get out and get on with your trip, you can spend less time worrying about checking a bag and more time focusing on other elements of your vacation, such as where you parked your car or where to pick up a rental car in the airport garage.

Related reading:

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