Secrets Your Baggage Handlers Really Don’t Want You to Know

Next time you take an airplane ride, glance out the window at the baggage handlers loading up your stuff. You might notice handlers treating your suitcases somewhat less than gingerly. Some of that comes down to time constraints — if you have a tight layover, so does your luggage. However, a few gate agents and baggage handlers have spilled the beans on what really goes down under the plane.

Fasten your seatbelts for the most scandalous tales from the cargo hold. You also won’t believe the secret behind where your lost suitcases really go (page 7).

1. They sometimes throw bags up to 20 yards

Baggage handler conveyor belt

Baggage handler | Tim Boyle/Getty Images

  • Travel tip: Get a sturdy bag to avoid breakage.

A former baggage handler, who went by “Aaron” to keep his identity anonymous, told The Independent that bags can get tossed quite a distance. That sometimes comes down to time — baggage handlers face strict consequences for not loading up bags on time. But they also don’t worry too much about breaking the contents.

“We were taught in training that if a bag breaks or something inside it breaks, it is the fault of the passenger,” Aaron points out. He bought a stronger suitcase himself, after working in cargo.

Next: They also don’t always treat your stuff with the same respect you would.

2. Handlers make a game out of tossing bags

passenger waiting at conveyor belt to pick his luggage

A man looks for his luggage. | fizkes/iStock/Getty Images

  • Travel tip: Designer luggage isn’t very sturdy, so go for form, not label.

The Secret Bag Handler confessed that sometimes, handlers make a game out of it tossing luggage. “In the hold of the plane, we would throw the suitcases to each other, from the belt to stacking them up. We throw them to each other as hard as we can.” He added that they never intentionally broke bags, but “you can imagine that it is not exactly beneficial to the bag.”

Next: You also might want to think twice before checking valuables.

3. Some agents have sticky fingers

Airport Security bag search by TSA agent

A TSA agent searches a bag. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

  • Travel tip: Carry your valuables on with you, to avoid theft.

According to ABC, between 2003-2012, at least 381 TSA officers got fired for stealing from travelers. One of them, Pythias Brown, lifted over $800,000 worth of electronics and other items during his four years at Newark Liberty International Airport. Brown said a “a culture of indifference” created a filching free-for-all. He also explained that luggage X-rays helped unscrupulous officers determine what to take.

Next: You’ll want to wash your hands after reading this next one.

4. They sometimes lick luggage

Traveler pulling suitcase

A person walks with their luggage. | fizkes/iStock/Getty Images

  • Travel tip: Wrap breakables in clothing and place it in the middle of your suitcase, to avoid breakage.

Aaron told The Independent some of his co-workers had some pretty gross habits. He said some members of staff actually licked suitcases. When they saw alcohol leaking from luggage in the hold, his fellow handlers lapped it up. After you carry your luggage to your destination, especially if something breaks inside, you might want to wash your hands.

Next: Speaking of gross, you won’t believe the following habit.

5. Some will touch your underwear

Passenger with passports and boarding pass and pink baggage

A person walks through the airport. | travnikovstudio/iStock/Getty Images

  • Travel tip: Pack your underwear in plastic bags to make it pack down smaller and avoid possible handling.

If you open your luggage at your destination and your stuff doesn’t look quite the same, don’t question your imagination. Aaron reported that his coworkers often rooted through lingerie in baggage that didn’t close properly. They also stood beneath aircraft staircases to look up passengers’ skirts, as they boarded. Wear pants next time you fly, and make sure your bags close well.

Next: Baggage handlers also do have oversight, but not as much as you think.

6. They work under surveillance — sort of

O'Hare International Airport

People walk through the airport. | Tupungato/iStock/Getty Images

  • Travel tip: Make sure your luggage locks or get it wrapped for extra safety.

Baggage handlers, like most employees, do have someone watching them. However, they also have tricks to get away with unsavory activity. “We were taught we were under surveillance at all times and any infraction will be seen,” Aaron told The Independent. “But then long-standing baggage handlers told us their favorite stories of former colleagues stealing cigarettes and booze from bags.”

If you want your luggage to stay safe, he recommended getting it wrapped in plastic or attaching a good lock. They can still get randomly searched for security screenings, but at least those measures will deter less ethical workers.

Next: If you’ve ever lost your bags, you might already know about the following.

7. Airlines often auction off lost stuff

Baggage Handler loading luggage

Luggage | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

  • Travel tip: Always cut off old luggage tags to avoid confusion.

If you lose your luggage, you can usually reclaim it within a couple of weeks to months. However, some people just never come back to claim it, or it falls through the cracks. Miami International Airport, for instance, holds a twice-yearly luggage sale. There, customers can pay an entry fee to bid on bags, electronics, and other lost items.

Some United Kingdom airports also hold blind luggage auctions in which people buy orphaned bags without knowing what lies inside, according to Vice. If you like to gamble, you might also want in on these. You never know what you could find.

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