Basic of Air Travel: Checking & Carrying On Luggage
With boarding pass in hand (you printed it out at home), and transportation arranged, you are now ready to arrive at the airport with at least one less thing that you’ll need to take care of.
If you did not check-in from home, you can do so at the airport at one of the airline self-service kiosks (similar to the process that you follow from home), the sky cab curbside, or at the ticket counter. You’ll need to allow extra time at the airport to accomplish this, regardless of the method you choose.
But, if you’ve already checked in, you then just have to take care of your bag. Which leads to the next decision to make: To check your bags or not.
10 Steps to Take the Pain Out of Checking Your Bags
I’m one of the few travelers that don’t mind checking my bags. Maybe it’s because when I’m working, I have no choice. I have to schlep the darn things all over the place, pack and unpack things to get through security, and after the end of a particular busy trip, that all gets pretty tiring. The notion has great appeal, then, of having someone else take care of getting my bags where they need to be, leaving for me to walk on and off the plane with only a small hand-carried bag.
I’m sure that the reason I am so quick to check my bags is that I have never once, in all the years I’ve traveled, had a bag go astray. (Yes, I realize that typing this is now the kiss of death next time I check bags!)
I’ve also never had an exorbitantly long wait in baggage claim, waiting for items to come tumbling onto the carousel. Yes, it can seem like a long time, but it’s usually because you want out of the airport! When I’ve checked my watch, I’ve realized that the waiting time is usually in the 5-10 minute range.
Here are some steps that you can take to help ease the pain of checking your bags, and to help ensure that your bags arrive when and where you do.
- It starts with packing — make sure that your bag is in good shape, no rips or broken zippers, and that it is sturdy enough to withstand the journey. It doesn’t do any good for your bag to arrive in a timely fashion, only to be split apart because a small tear became a large one.
- Put a bag tag on the outside of your suitcase. I use something brightly colored, to make my standard-issue black bag a little more noticeable on the luggage carousel. In fact, I usually use two bag tags, although I’m not really certain why I do that. On the bag tags, I list a home, business, and cell phone, so there are lots of ways to find me.
- Put a copy of your itinerary, along with your name, address, home phone, cell phone, and email, on the inside of the bag. I usually place everything into an envelope and pin the envelope to a pocket of the bag. I tape an additional business card on the outside. If my bag goes missing, along with exterior bag tags, the airlines can still find me.
- If you check your bag with a curbside porter, make sure that the city code on the tag is the city code of your final destination. (Which means that you need to know your airport codes.) If you’re on a non-stop flight, this usually isn’t a problem, but occasionally, if you’re making a connecting flight, your connecting airport can inadvertently be tagged as your final destination. Double-check!
- If you are checking your bags with a porter, tip them. I know that you shouldn’t have to, especially now that there is a charge for curbside check-in, but I do it and chalk it up to putting good travel-karma out into the world.
- If you are checking your bags with a ticket agent at the airline counter, make sure that the tags match up, and make sure that in the crush of people in line, that the tags get on your bags rather than the person’s bag in the line next to you. At peak travel times there can be lots of pushing and jostling, so don’t lose sight of your bags.
- Upon arrival at your destination, head off to baggage claim in an orderly fashion. If you need to stop by and use the restroom, do so. There’s nothing worse than people in the baggage claim area being grouchy because they have to go to the bathroom.
- Find the carousel where your bags will be arriving. Don’t push your way to the front of the offloading area. If you don’t know where the offloading area is, just look around. It’s the area where everyone is pushing and shoving. Why put yourself through that stress? Just find a spot somewhere along with the carousel, and let everyone else get stressed out over being first.
- When the bags start rolling by, you’ll be able to quickly spot yours because you put that brightly colored bag tag on it. Lift it off the carousel and check to make sure that it is really yours. If you are waiting for another bag, make sure that you don’t block access to the carousel area with your already claimed bag.
- Keep your bag claim checks handy as you leave the baggage claim area. Some airports still match them up.
That’s all there is to it. A little thought, in the beginning, a few practical considerations at the airport, and some good manners along the way. Before long, you’ll find that checking your bags isn’t all that bad.
10 Things to Always Carry On With You
There are, however, certain items that you should NEVER check, and should ALWAYS bring with you onboard in your carry-on. I rarely use absolutes like NEVER and ALWAYS when talking about travel, but in this case, they apply. Here are 10 items that ALWAYS go with you in the cabin of the plane
- Tickets. I have actually seen people scream out that their tickets are in the bag as it rolls off to the conveyor belt. If your bags don’t catch up with you, it’s going to be tough to return home without your tickets. This recommendation also holds true for other tickets — concerts, admission tickets, theaters, etc.
- Identification. Keep your passport, driver’s license, insurance cards, etc., with you.
- Money, credit cards, and/or traveler’s checks. It amazes me how many people pack their traveler’s checks in their luggage. It’s nearly the same as cash! What are you thinking?
- Jewelry. While I may tuck in some costume jewelry in the corner of a bag, the good stuff goes with me. Even better though, is leave most of the good stuff at home and you won’t be a target for theft on the road.
- Fragile items such as glassware, antiques, and expensive knick-knacks. It’s tough enough to transport these items without damaging them yourself. Why would you trust their safety to baggage handlers?
- Camera gear. Unless you have lots of gear that is professionally packed to avoid damage, carry it on. Many professionals ship a portion of the gear ahead of their own travel so it is waiting for them when they arrive.
- Perishable food. That tuna sandwich or potato salad may not survive the trip. And even if it does, it’s going to stink up the joint.
- Medication. You may need to take it before you even arrive at your destination. Keep it handy.
- Birth control. If your bags are delayed, you’ll need something to do before your clothes catch up with you.
- Itinerary. Keep a copy of your itinerary with you on the plane. If your bag does go astray, you’ll need the information to fill our forms and to leave an address where the bags should be delivered. Besides, you’ll need to know where your hotel is, confirmation for your rental car, important phone numbers, etc.
These items will easily fit in a purse or carry-on tote, along with a few toiletries, reading material, iPods, and other personal items that you choose to take with you. There are other items that I like to take in my carry-on bag, but these 10 are absolutes.
If you’re traveling with a lot of stuff — whether that’s kids, bags, or pets, I’m a big proponent of checking your bags. It’s not without some risk, but you can minimize your chances of a bag going astray by following the tips below.
With these tips in mind, you should be able to navigate the murky waters of checked bags, carrying on only those items that you’ll need to use, or keep secure, during your flight.
Now you’re ready to proceed to security!
If you’re following on with our Basics of Air Travel series, here is a quick list and where you are in the process.
- Checking in From Home
- Get to the Airport on Time
- Checking & Carrying on Luggage
- Getting Through Security – Planning
- Airport Security – Rules & Etiquette
- Getting to Your Departure Gate
- Boarding the Plane & Stowing Your Bags
- Turning Off Your Electronic Devices
- Safety Demonstration
- Beverage Service
- Airplane Etiquette
- Landing & Deplaning
- Leaving the Airport