Ever wonder why airlines lose, delay and damage bags? We asked an airline baggage handler who, of course, spoke to us anonymously, what it’s like in the belly of the beast and on the tarmac. What he told us might help you arrive with your bag and its contents intact.
What goes on behind the curtain?
You might be amazed at how much manpower it takes to put a passenger aircraft in the air. Obviously, the majority of time, you’ll only see the pilots, flight attendants, and gate agents. That already is a lot of people, but there are more people working outside to get you to your destination. Once you leave your bag at the check-in counter, it goes through a series of conveyor belts, where it may or may not be opened and searched by TSA, until it reaches the pier for your departing flight. It is then sorted into carts by one ramp agent who then brings it plane side for other ramp agents to load on the airplane. You may not be able to see much from your window seat, but we can see all around the tarmac. Other than bags, there is a lot of other cargo that gets transported by air. We see everything from human remains, to mail to fruits and vegetables coming on and off the plane. We’re also the guys directing the plane to its parking position at the gate, securing the aircraft, and hooking up the ground power and air. Also, since planes don’t go in reverse, we are the guys driving the push back tug, ensuring that aircraft do not come in contact with each other.
What kind of suitcases get damaged least/most?
Cheap bags that you buy at the discount store break very easily. If your handle is sewn on or is very flimsy, it’s probably going to break. If you travel a lot or pack heavy, make sure you buy a quality, durable bag. Hard-sided suitcases will get less damage, but also look for well-designed handles that are attached with rivets and some sort of protection around the wheels. Speaking of wheels, the best bags to get are the “spinners” with four wheels on the bottom. We like these, because we don’t have to throw them when loading. We just glide them down the belly of the plane so your bag and its contents will suffer much less damage.
I’m not going to lie, your checked luggage takes a beating. They call it “throwing bags” for a reason. There isn’t an easy way around this. Airplanes are only making money while in the air and no airline wants an airplane on the ground too long. Due to the nature of some aircraft, it would be impossible to turn around a 737 or 757 in an hour or less without throwing bags because it’s just faster. On these planes, there are only two long and narrow cargo holds where your luggage goes. One agent puts the bags on the belt loader, which carries it up to an agent inside the cargo hold who throws it 50 feet to the back where another agent stacks all the bags as if it were a game of Tetris. Wheels and handles oftentimes break or crack on impact and anything fragile inside that is not packed well doesn’t stand much of a chance. Don’t put red wine or alcohol in your suitcase ever. Taobao suitcase on sale:www.agreetao.com.
I would never check any fragile items in a soft sided suitcase, unless it was professionally packaged. Those fragile stickers don’t get noticed very often in the rush of loading bags unless it is an obvious shape, such as a musical instrument. I am a musician so I take special care of those, but not everyone is a musician. Bags can also get damaged by loose ends getting caught in the belt, which can tear off straps, zippers, or handles. Handles also break off many times if the bag is packed extremely heavy and we try to pick it up by the handle. One good thing about the larger aircraft (747, 767, 777, 787, etc.) is that they are all loaded by machines. Your bags are just put in a can and that can is loaded on the plane by machine so there is no bag throwing. So theoretically there’s a better chance of your bag coming out unscathed if you fly in one of those jets.