Travel Tips

5 min read

Beat the Baggage Rush: Insider Tips for First Dibs on Luggage

Imagine beating everyone at the baggage claim game. Here's the secret playbook to having your luggage slide out first, while others wait with envy. Ready to travel like a pro? Keep reading.

Tobi Miles
June 6, 2023

Waiting in line for your baggage only to turn around and get in line for a car rental or rideshare service isn’t a great way to start your vacation. The wait times for baggage claim have only gone up since the staffing crisis that has affected nearly every industry, and that includes airlines. This has led many travelers to fly with carry-on bags, but that isn’t always an option.

Understandably, frequent flyers have looked for ways to speed up the process and get their luggage first at baggage claim. While there is no way to ensure your luggage will arrive first, there are ways to increase the likelihood and decrease your wait time. In some cases, there is no rhyme or reason to the order in which airport personnel load luggage onto an airplane before it takes off.

However, you will generally have better luck getting your bags quickly if you are one of the last people to check your luggage. It’s easier for airport employees to load the bags that most recently arrived onto the plane first. This also means that they will unload that batch of bags first, and they will get to baggage claim sooner.

For some travelers, the cons outweigh the pros with this method as there is always a chance that you will be late for your flight. The best way around this risk is to check your bag at the gate. You can’t always gate-check your bag, but it’s worth asking if you want to make sure it arrives at baggage claim quickly.

Gate-checked bags make their way onto the plane last in most cases, so they are often the first to arrive at baggage claim. The only downside to this option is that you can’t pack everything you’d be able to bring had you checked the bag early, such as sunscreen or bottled water. That’s because you will still need to bring your bag through the security line.

Another hack is to ask the employees at the counter to put a “fragile” sticker on your bag. Airline employees typically load bags containing fragile goods onto the airplane at the end. They do this so that the other luggage doesn’t smash into the bag containing fragile items if turbulence occurs. This doesn’t always work, but airline representatives typically do whatever they can to help if you ask politely.

Loyal flyers that stick with an airline for years are often eligible for priority services. Once you qualify for priority status, airline personnel will mark your luggage as such so that’s loaded onto the plane last. That way, it will arrive at baggage claim first, and you will quickly be on your way.

Every airline is different, so it’s worth inquiring about their priority services to see what you can do to qualify for them. There is no guarantee that your bag will be unloaded first as human error is unavoidable, but priority services often put you first in line. Many airlines upgrade you to elite status if you’ve flown at least 20,000 miles within a year.

If your bag takes longer than 20 minutes to arrive at baggage claim, you may be entitled to compensation, depending on the airline. For example, Delta Airlines reimburses passengers with a credit of 2,500 miles if their bag doesn’t show up for 20 minutes. Simply make your claim to the airline if this happens and collect your reward.

Use Tile Trackers or Apple AirTags to track your luggage if you’ve had trouble in the past. Airports are notorious for giving inaccurate estimated times of arrival at baggage claim. While trackers won’t speed up the process, they can give you a realistic expectation of when your luggage will finally show up.

It’s also important to make sure you show up at the right baggage claim terminal. The terminal where your luggage arrives is subject to change depending on how many incoming flights the airport must accommodate. Choose unique luggage that you can quickly spot as it makes its way through baggage claim on the conveyor belt.

If all else fails, it’s worth spending the extra money to book a first-class flight. While it costs more than flying coach, first-class passengers often get their bags first at baggage claim.

Article updated:
January 5, 2024

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