15 Secrets Your Airport Baggage Handler Won’t Tell You

Every time you check a bag, you’re putting a huge amount of trust in baggage handlers to take great care of your items and to make sure they make it onto the right flight. But don’t worry about it too much — less than 1% of all luggage gets lost, so your chance of waiting around the baggage carousel for a suitcase that never shows is pretty slim.

Your luggage tag is the most important piece that helps get your bag or other checked items to the right place. But beyond this, have you ever wondered what the baggage check employees want you to know about the process? Read on to find out secrets from the men and women who physically load your bag onto the airplane.

1. They probably won’t steal from you

Baggage handler conveyor belt

There are cameras everywhere now. | Tim Boyle/Getty Images

Miami-Dade police recently set up hidden cameras to keep an eye on airport workers and managed to catch a few handlers rummaging through bags and pocketing valuables that they found.

These crooks give a bad name to honest baggage handlers, but thankfully theft isn’t very common. Since the cameras were installed in 2012, 31 baggage handlers and ramp workers were arrested. CNN states that 30,621 claims of missing valuables worth $2.5 million were filed between 2010 and 2014 at Miami International Airport. Jewelry and watches were some of the most commonly stolen items.

Again, it probably won’t happen, but to avoid the hassle you should keep all your valuables in your carry-on if possible. And be extra cautious at New York’s JFK Airport, LAX, and Orlando International — those airports have the most theft claims overall.

Next: Working conditions aren’t usually pleasant.

2. It’s ridiculously hot sometimes

Baggage Handler loading luggage

It is a hot job. | John Moore/Getty Images

Much like postal workers, luggage handlers have to keep working in all types of weather, even oppressive heat. Think about how uncomfortable it is on a humid day when you’re just walking around. Now amplify that discomfort by a thousand when you add in huge jet engines, heat-reflecting concrete, and the physical exertion of moving heavy bags around. It’s all in a (summer) day’s work for baggage handlers.

Next: Baggage processing is hard work.

3. Handlers have back pain

Baggage Handler loading luggage

It’s heavy lifting. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Baggage handlers who stay in the profession for many years often complain of joint, muscle, and back pain. That’s because they’re lifting and hauling up to 340 suitcases per year, which adds up to 125,000 bags per year. Ouch.

Next: They aren’t paid well — but they do have one great perk.

4. They don’t make much money at all

Baggage Handler loading luggage

They don’t get paid that much. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Despite the physical demands of the job, unpleasant working conditions, and round-the-clock shifts, most airport baggage handlers aren’t paid much more than minimum wage. They do have one pretty awesome perk, though: they all get to fly for free.

Next: This precaution has two benefits.

5. Lock your zipper

Baggage Handler loading luggage

Probably best to avoid your things spilling out all over the runway. | Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images

Keeping a lock on your zipper has two advantages: one, it discourages potential theft and two, it helps to keep your bag from accidentally opening during transport.

Next: Yes, they do play “toss the bag.”

6. Your bags will get tossed around

Baggage Handler loading luggage

Make sure fragile items are in your carry-on. | Greg Wood/AFP/Getty Images

This should come as no surprise, especially if you’ve ever watched baggage handlers from the window of the terminal.

An anonymous handler admitted that he and his coworkers sometimes make a game of tossing bags to one another and onto the conveyer belt. Hey, anything to make the shift pass by faster, right?

Be smart. Pack fragile items in plenty of protective wrap, or better yet, figure out a way to fit them into your carry on.

Next: Your luggage choice matters.

7. Choose your luggage wisely

Baggage claim conveyor belt

Soft-sided luggage will be the first to get damaged. | Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images

Designer suitcases may look beautiful, but these are often the ones that fall apart the fastest once you start using them. Opt for durable, rugged, hard-sided luggage with good reviews rather than choosing your travel gear for looks alone.

Wheels are another important component of your bag. As one former ramp agent and baggage handler told Reader’s Digest: “If it doesn’t roll, it most likely gets thrown.”

Next: This tip helps handlers process your bags quicker.

8. Always remove old tags

Luggage tag

Remove the old tag or your bag might get lost. | Tim Boyle/Getty Images

Travel frequently? It’s important to cut off old luggage tags before checking into your current flight. As one Reddit user and ramp worker said: “If you have a bag tag from two years ago, as well as a load of other ones, it takes us infinitely longer to find the right date for where it’s supposed to be going.”

The only tag on your bag should be the one with your name and address, just in case your bag is misplaced.

Next: Bigger planes = better for luggage.

9. Your bags might be safer on bigger planes

Baggage Handler loading luggage

A machine does the work for larger planes. | VanderWolf-images/iStock/Getty Images

Larger planes employ machine loaders rather than people, meaning that there’s no chance for human error and no one is throwing your bag around. So your luggage is just a bit safer on a big plane than it is on a small one.

Next: Here’s the other reason to arrive two hours in advance.

10. Don’t arrive at the last minute

Luggage tag

Don’t try and check your bag last minute. | sebastianosecondi/iStock/Getty Images

According to professional baggage handlers, lost luggage is often the result of arriving for your flight at the last minute and rushing through the check-in process. That two hour buffer is not only so you can make it through the security line — it’s also giving airport staff the opportunity to process your bag properly.

Next: Connecting flights might mean lost luggage.

11. Choose a direct flight when possible

United airlines airplane in the newark airport

Direct flights mean less chances for your bag to go missing. | Muratani/iStock/Getty Images

Switching planes is stressful for you the traveler, and it also increases the chances that your bag could get misplaced along the way. Baggage handlers suggest that you pick a direct flight if you’re concerned about your checked bag going missing.

Next: That receipt is important.

12. Hold onto your receipt

Person scanning luggage

That receipt could save you a whole lot of trouble. | Laurie Dieffembacq/AFP/Getty Images

The receipt they give you at the check-in counter will prove priceless if your bag ever goes missing. Tuck it into a safe place until you’re successfully reunited with your bag again.

Next: Don’t over or under pack

13. Pack lightly

woman packing a luggage for a new journey

You don’t want anything bursting open or moving around. | Tatomm/iStock/Getty Images

Not only will your bag cost more to check if it’s over weight, but it also has a higher likelihood of breaking open when you cram too much stuff inside. Either pare down what you bring or distribute your luggage across several sturdy bags instead.

But don’t leave your bag half empty, either. Contents are more likely to move around if you don’t have enough stuff in them. Pack your suitcase full … just not too full.

Next: Beware of dangling straps.

14. The simpler the bag, the better

passenger waiting at conveyor belt to pick his luggage

Extra straps could get caught on things. | fizkes/iStock/Getty Images

A well-made hard-sided bag offers the most protection against getting accidentally dropped or broken. But even if you have soft sided luggage, check to make sure there are no straps or accessories hanging from the sides. These extras can get caught on conveyor belts and may even lead to your luggage getting destroyed.

Next: All bags get treated the same.

15. That “FRAGILE” tag won’t do much

Suitcase with fragile tag

They probably won’t notice a little tag. | efired/iStock/Getty Images

But it’s not just because baggage handlers are being jerks. Usually, they’re moving too quickly to even notice the tag is there.

Read more: The Best Ways to Keep Your Airline From Losing Your Luggage

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