There are many circumstances where carrying on your luggage may not be an option. I have seen ridiculous charges on some airlines for overhead space, and there are some items that just can’t be carried on an airplane due to many different factors. There are also circumstances where you will need to involuntarily check your bag at boarding due to lack of available bag space. When you have to check a bag it is important to do a few things to make sure you aren’t stranded without your stuff.
It’s important to:
- Know what items have to be checked
- Keep a small bag that fits under the seat with some critical items
- Always get your baggage claim check with you
- Ask where the bags will be delivered to
- Make sure your checked bag is zipped up and secure
Usually due to size constraints some of your items must be checked. Airlines have strict size limitations on carryon luggage. If you are traveling with sports equipment like golf clubs, skis, surfboards, hockey sticks etc. these items need to be checked, and some of them may be above the allowed weight or considered oversized, which means more fees. Make sure to check out your item on the airlines website before you travel to determine what the fees will be for your checked item.
Sometimes it may make sense to just rent the equipment you’ll need for your trip when you get there, it will save you the hassle of lugging it through airports, and may even save you some cash. If you need to travel with tools there is really no way to get around checking them.
Most tools are not allowed through TSA. Along with tools there are many items that cannot be brought through a US airport security checkpoint. Most notably is liquids in containers over 3.4 oz (100 ml). This means no full size toothpaste, shampoo, lotions, and hair products are allowed in their original bottles. Luckily you can buy TSA approved bottles at most grocery stores, all you have to do is transfer the liquids into them. If you really need 10oz of shampoo you can use 3 bottles for the same product. There are several more items that are not allowed through security, for a list check https://www.tsa.gov/travel/security-screening/prohibited-items.
Keep in mind that most airlines will not charge checked bag fees for assistive devices like wheelchairs and walkers, or for strollers and car seats. If you’re travelling with kids the it may be better to get some of these items off of your hands to make things a little easier.
If you are carrying your bags with you onto the plane, there are some circumstances where you would be forced to check you bag due to limited space available on board the aircraft. If there is no space for your bag then you really have no choice but to hand it over to the airline. Most airlines operate boarding by group numbers or zones. If you are in a later boarding zone you can always ask the gate agent if they anticipate running out of bag space. If they say yes then you can ask if there is any seating is available in an earlier boarding group, changing boarding groups may cost more money but it is always worth asking. There will often be alternate seating options. If you are unable to change groups, and the gate agents tells you that the flight will be full then try to get to the front of your group.
Some aircraft have very limited space and may not be able to hold standard size carry on luggage. In these cases you will have no choice but to check your bag. If you’re not sure if your bag is too large you can always ask the gate agent if the bag will fit in the passenger cabin.
When you check your bag at the gate for any reason make sure you know where the bag is going, and where you will be able to pick it up. Before handing your bag over make sure that you have everything that you will need for the flight, and throughout the day. The airlines will allow you to carry two bags; your second bag should be small enough to fit underneath the seat.
In your smaller bag you should have basic essentials. I like to bring a change of clothes, toothbrush/toothpaste, phone charger, and a few snacks. If an unexpected delay occurs, and I’m stuck without my checked bag at least I have things to get me through the day or night if need be. You should NEVER PLACE MEDICATIONS in checked baggage. ALWAYS KEEP MEDICATIONS WITH YOU AT ALL TIMES!
Typically there are two different types of checked bags when you drop at the gate:
- Standard check where the bag will be delivered to your final destination baggage claim. Even if you are making a connection the bag will transfer for you and it doesn’t need to be picked up.
- The other type of checked bag is a valet check. Valet bags are brought up planeside when you arrive at the next airport. These bags need to be picked up at the gate when you’re getting off of the plane, even if you’re making a connecting flight.
When receiving a tag from the gate agent it is very important to ask what kind of check is being done. Also make sure to get a claim ticket for the bag. This is a receipt used to track the bag in case it is misplaced by the airline.
A valet service is generally used by regional airlines that operate smaller aircraft. If you check a bag on a large plane then it is usually checked to the claim area at your final destination. If valet service is offered on your aircraft, but you will be making a tight connection (under 1 hour) it would be smart to ask the gate agent to check your bag to your final destination. I have seen several occasions where passengers have missed their flight while waiting for the valet-checked bags to arrive. If your flight is getting delayed then your connection time is shrinking, check the bag all the way and give yourself the best chance to make the connection. In this case the gate agent may try to valet check the bag, but let them know you want it checked all the way to your final destination.
When checking your bag whether it be voluntary or not, make sure that the bag is ready for travel. All of the zippers should be in good working condition and zipped all the way. Make sure there are no loose straps hanging off of the bag that could get caught on something. If loose ends are unavoidable then ask an airport employee to place the luggage in a plastic bag before tagging it. The bag should also have a nametag on it with your critical contact information. If you don’t have one then the airline will probably have one for you to fill out and place on your bag. If something happens to the destination tag then at least there will be some information on the bag.
Luggage companies over the years have copied each other’s design features. Many bags look alike, so it is important to make your bag easily distinguishable from the rest. There are many ways to make your bag unique. Add ribbons, colored tape, or buy a large neon bag tag. This is not just for checked bags, I’ve seen people take the wrong carryon right out of the overhead before, make sure your bag looks different than the others in some way. If possible, don’t buy a black roller; look for a bright color that you can easily identify. Remember, luggage is not a fashion statement, although many people act like it is. It is meant to transport and protect the items inside. It is a good idea to buy high quality luggage, it will last longer than cheap bags, but realize that it will get scuffed, scratched, and maybe dented as it accrues miles.
If you decide to check your bag, or are forced to check it due to limited space then it will usually arrive at the destination with you. The baggage operation on most airlines is pretty reliable. It’s still smart to have some basic items with you just in case something happens to your checked luggage.