You are standing at the baggage claim waiting for your bag, every other passenger has walked away and the belt has stopped, but your bag hasn’t arrived. After a few minutes of waiting you walk over to your airline’s baggage services desk and complain that your bag has not arrived. They ask to see your baggage identification stub and record the information about the type of bag, color, and where you can be reached. They make sure that as soon as it arrives it will be delivered to you. Little consolation when you have a business meeting, wedding, or as in my case, two months of Officer Candidate School waiting for you that very day.
Reason #1: Either you checked in too late or had too close of a connecting flight.
I know you don’t want to hear it, however, usually the culprit is a passenger who leaves the airline little time to process the bag through the TSA and sort it on to a flight or else books themselves a close connection in a city that does not allow enough time for their baggage to be transferred. In some airports such as Denver or Chicago, bags may have to travel close to a mile from the point where you checked in to the point they are loaded into the airplane. In addition, the time it takes for the TSA to screen and transfer bags to the airline may be lengthened at peak times or if there are equipment problems or something suspicious in your bag. When making a connection, your bags have to travel further than you in most cases. Bags are usually unloaded from an aircraft and taken to a central sorting facility where they are then collected by ramp personnel for the connecting flight. So if your bags make it to the sort late, the person collecting them for your next flight may have already left to make sure the bags he has are loaded in time for an on-time departure.
Reason #2: Weight Restriction
Due to new weight policies enacted by the FAA, airlines have become much more limited in how much cargo they can carry. The FAA recently changed what is known as a standard passenger weight from 170 to 190 pounds. This 20 pound increase may not sound like much but when multiplied even over 50 people, that’s 1000 pounds less the airplane cannot carry in cargo. Many flights have to make the decision whether to leave passengers or leave baggage. In most cases, it’s easier and more time efficient to leave the baggage.
Reason #3: Smaller Airplanes
With the increased use of regional jets by airlines, the amount of baggage space available is in some cases extremely limited. This is compounded by the need to “gate check” bags that are too large for the smaller overhead bins, thus creating even more baggage in the cargo compartment. Unfortunately there is no easy way for the airlines to fix this problem due to the economics of using smaller jets, however I can say that all “gate checked” bags will make it to their final destination, whereas regular checked bags may not.
Reason #4: Carelessness
Sometimes the ramp personnel are just plain careless. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a baggage cart drive off and have a bag or two fall off only to be left behind. In most cases they are quickly collected and make it to their destination successfully, however sometimes they sit for even 15 minutes which may be too long to make it to the plane they need to be on. In other cases, ticket agents may take the wrong tag and put it on your bag, sending it to Alaska instead of Alabama. Always check the tag before giving your bag to the TSA. It should have your name, the destination and all stops in between listed.
Reason #5: Many Bags Look Alike
I am guilty. I have taken another person’s bag off of the carousel, and walked out on to the curb waiting for pick-up only to realize I have the wrong bag. It’s easy to do in an age when everyone has a black roll-aboard suitcase. It may also be the reason you don’t have your bag at the baggage claim. This is mostly a non-malicious act of carelessness by whomever took your bag, but nonetheless frustrating. Again, double-check your bag every time you go to pick it up.
To combat these problems, the airlines are moving towards real-time baggage tracking. United’s E-Bag system scans every bag as it leaves or enters an aircraft, and every time that it is transferred to a new portion of the airport. Using this technology they can look up your bag’s ID number and tell you where it was last scanned, as well as send an alert to the manager at that city to ensure that it is promptly processed. Many other airlines have a similar method of baggage tracking.
In my case the culprit was weight restriction and a 50-seat regional jet. There were 15 of us on the same flight going to the same school, each with two large Army duffel bags that just didn’t fit. They were too big to fit in the cargo hold and too heavy for the airplane to take all of them. They did arrive 36 hours later.
I want to hear your story about lost bags! Was it timing, carelessness, or did someone walk away with your bag? Let us know and leave a comment.