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Downsides of checking your bags

No, I’m not the packing police. I just think this is an interesting depiction of the realities of airport baggage systems and some excellent reasons to pack light and carry-on-only that go beyond the advice that some of us, acting as packing police deputies, proselytize here. Repeatedly. Yawningly.

https://www.onebag.com/checking-bags.html#q

The rest of the onebag.com site is packed with practical advice and experience. Worth your time if you’re new to traveling like Rick.

Posted by
3274 posts

I've been checking bags on almost every flight Ive taken for almost 5O years. Never had a bag lost, stolen or irreparably damaged. Never had items stolen from or contraband added to a bag. Never had locks or zippers ripped off. And I'm not a moron, so I never pack items if value in a checked bag. According to this article I must be living in a fools paradise. I think I'll continue to live there.

Posted by
1558 posts

Lucky you, Jean! Others haven’t been so lucky.
I can tell you that traveling to the Galapagos we were warned not to put our suitcases outside our room for bag pickup due to numerous issues with contraband being stuffed into some poor travelers bags. I can also say that I’ve had bags lost and delayed.

Posted by
1649 posts

Uh oh. Lol

Joking aside, traveling abroad I check one bag and I carry on a bag. I split my things in two bags. In the event that my checked bag gets delayed, I will still have clothes toiletries and other little comforts to get me on my way.

Anything of great value will go in my personal item bag and my carry-on.

Zippers are zip tied for the checked. With my carry-on, I will use plastic twist ties. Anything I may need on the plane will be in my personal item under the seat.

To be fair, my Domestic and International travels are one-stop stays. So, it is easier for me to take two bags - although neither is big or really heavy. I am not lugging bags in trains or over cobblestone, step bridges, etc.

Those who travel multi-city, multi country need to find creative ways to minimize weight of course. And, if their bags is delayed or lost, it can heavily impact and / or inconvenience them; especially if they are moving around every three days or so.

Just pack and carry whatever makes "you" feel comfortable.

Posted by
5552 posts

Unless I am going for a short stay of a week or less I always check a bag, without issue.

Posted by
11257 posts

The problem I have with sites like "onebag" and some of the posters here is they come across as "I'm right and you're wrong if you do it differently."

Giving suggestions and sharing experiences are fine, but ultimately how one travels is up to that traveler and we should respect that.

If someone you only know online wants to check a bag, how is it affecting you? Look at it this way, more space in the overhead for you.

But to those who read any site or guidebook who think they must follow it because the "expert" declared it, stop being such a sheep and do what makes you happy. If the "expert" says no wheels but you hate carrying a backpack, is taking their advice going to make your trip more enjoyable?

I'll get off my soapbox now.

Posted by
13519 posts

We check bags too. Nope, we're not ashamed.
They're not huge and not overpacked, although heavier when we come home from the museum books I tend to pick up.

Some of our travel clothing has been purchased over time specifically for the purpose: to be lightweight, wrinkle resistant and easily drip-dried in a hotel room if needs be. I'm not about to go littering clothes all over Europe and am pretty sure they wouldn't appreciate having to deal with our old stuff anyway. Besides, who has the time - or the budget, for that matter - to shop for a new wardrobe when there's so much sightseeing to do?

Our luggage contents have been examined and the explanatory note left once or twice. Didn't bother me overly much.

There are as many ways to manage packing as there are destinations across the pond. All of them work as long as they work for you.

Posted by
3192 posts

Everyone should pack in the way that suits them, as long as they don't expect other people to handle their luggage for them on trains, etc.

Posted by
65 posts

I have been forced to check my bag at the gate several times now because many travelers are doing the carry on thing and the planes do not have the capacity for all the extra baggage. I always pack light but it becomes about pecking order once the zones are called. I don't pay for priority boarding so I am always at risk. Between that and worrying obsessively about luggage weight/size, it was stressing me out so much that I've decided to adopt a more blasé attitude, especially on direct flights. I plan ahead, spread out my belongings between bags so that I have most critical/valuable items and a change of clothes with me in case I am plucked out of line. I have never had anything stolen or planted. I use TSA locks and they've never been broken off. I have had bags delayed but never more than a day and only on the return flight. It seems to happen when we have a connection with a delayed flight or if my husband uses his golf club bag to carry additional items. Honestly, what bothers me more than losing my stuff is the culture that has developed at boarding time. It's dog-eat-dog and every (wo)man for her/himself. I'll take the inconvenience of checking my bags over the lack of civility any day.

Posted by
2717 posts

On my last trip, domestic (to California from the east coast with a layover) I had to gate check my bag due to space. This has happened before but in the past I’ve collected the bag when I got off the plane - on the jetway - at my connection. In this case my bag went all the way through and I got it at baggage claim at my destination. I generally don’t check so was a bit worried. But. But! It was so nice not worrying about my bag going down the aisle or running through the airport. Or struggling for overhead space. Bag arrived fine. So I can see the advantage to checking, even if your bag (like mine) is carry on size.

But I was staying in the US. If my bag were lost I’d know exactly where to go to buy inexpensive clothes and toilietries, I’d have no trouble communicating with the airline’s process, and so forth. And there are constant flight between east and west US so the bag would get there soon. I imagine a lost bag is much harder in another country. I only had a bag delayed once, and it was on my way home from Greece, so I could live without those things for the 3 days it took.

Posted by
3789 posts

OneBag was the site that started me working in that direction. I still pull out and use the packing list. I also bought his (then) recommended light pack when they weren't that available. MEI Voyageur. 3 pounds. Good hip belt. Size of Carry on allowance (well when 22 was allowed in Canada). aluminum frame. As it is flat backed with no lap top sections, minimal or no exterior pouches, it is just empty space. Perfect, in my mind. I didn't bother reading the link above, but what I found freeing was that it didn't get all twisted about every ounce. It matters more now as airlines reduce carry on weights, but for a beginner wanting some guidance; it worked for me....and I still recommend it.

Do I live by it always? No. I check bags at times but it depends what is happening on the other end. A little more risky when heading to an African safari where they won't be delivering any bags, or cruises or remote regions like Galapagos Islands. I am happy to take advantage of gate checked bags; particularly if enroute home. Even as I reduce the weight of my luggage, I am finding it physically more challenging to drag a bag a mile through airport/s.

My travel style and location is quite diverse so every trip may be different as to clothing list, amount of packing and what 'want to take' items to take. Generally it all maintains a similar weight, but if it is 5 pounds more, or more bulky then I have no problems checking. I might pack spare underwear and my toothbrush in my carry on purse, but no big deal.

It's been years since I have had luggage delays and never in a foreign country...always when coming home. There is little waiting for bags unless it is in my smaller home airport late at night when handlers are at a minimum....20 minutes wait.
Most of the people who are religious 'Packing' forum readers, know the drill, but for newbies, this website has practical advice and may be considered a jumping off point. Keep the info they want and toss out the rest. No need to negate the entire site because it isn't your way or it's old news. Even if you are a 'checker', I wouldn't discount reading things. There might be a useful nugget I don't know.

Posted by
5042 posts

Frank II, please feel free to climb back up on your soapbox any time you feel the need.

Posted by
2914 posts

I usually check my carryon sizebag. I do things to help the airline to not lose my bag. I love not having to deal with my carryon in the airport/plane/connections, etc. However, there are trips I do carryon. No trip is the same so I don't do things the same on every trip. Do what works for you and your particular trip. There is no right way or right bag. In fact, if I could buy a new bag for every trip...sigh...that would be heaven. ;)

I am that person that says "I pack heavier than I used to pack" so contrary to RS, I, at least, exist so one person does say that! When I was in my 20's, I was always missing something I needed. Now with a list, I pack heavier and are happy about it. My heavy is 20-23 lb wheelie, and then an ap. 7 pound PI....however, I have a new, lighter camera so next time I'll be packing lighter again. Oh what a crazy life it is!

PS, I just watched the aforementioned video. I'm sorry but if you check anything expensive in a checked bag you have no common sense; ie, jewelry worth thousands or dollars...really?, clothes worth $4K...if your clothes are worth that you can afford to lose them, IMO. LOL. Or the keys to the car...not in the video, but that's just nuts. These are all never again lessons some people need to learn. We all have something stupid we've done and had to learn. That's life. Checking is not the only problem in these situations.

Posted by
2472 posts

Amy I hear you. It is so intense sometimes and we always seem to be at the back of the plane. They really should start with the back because the front people take forever to put their bags up, get their seat items out, and finally clear the aisle. Sometimes we check our bags, sometimes we don’t. Depends on the destination. If we have to transfer we check, don’t want to drag that bag through the terminals, especially if we have limited time or we are at Heathrow or Frankfurt. Longest walks ever. Each trip is different. If we are going to one or two destinations then a larger bag is ok. If we will be going from place to place by bus, train or whatever, smaller, lighter bags. In May we are spending 9 nights in one hotel in London and 12 nights in Dublin - definitely a larger, checked bag because not much movement.

Posted by
3304 posts

All I know now is the UPSIDE of checking my bag.

Prior to my spine slipping, I rarely checked my bags unless returning home if I wanted to bring home a bottle of wine or some other liquid. Now I check my bag almost all of the time as I use wheelchair service at the airport and can no longer lift my pullman bag into the overhead compartment.

I cannot BELIEVE how easy it is to check a bag (at the drop off kiosk) and pick it up at baggage claim. Knock on wood, my wait at the carousel is typically no longer than 5-10 minutes.

Posted by
851 posts

Grab the pitchforks!

I am not the Packing Police.

The most interesting things for me about that page on onebag.com were the statistics and behind the scenes examination of the infrastructure that makes the luggage system function. So many places for things to go horribly wrong. Fascinating.

American PBS a few years ago ran a series called “City In The Sky” that documented every aspect of the airline industry from reservations to food, airport security to contractors, luggage handling systems to carry-on policies, terminal design to aircraft maintenance, air traffic controllers to janitorial. Huge industry. Complex. Intertwined. The number of airplanes that are in the air every second! The number of people flying! The safety margins! The number of bags handled every hour! Sheesh, it’s amazing we get there at all.

Posted by
47 posts

I have terrible luggage karma, in less than half the years (~25) of travel experience of CJean (first reply above), I have had zippers pulled off luggage, bags delayed due to missing transfers (the bags, not me), luggage searched both legally and illegally (nothing taken in the latter, as I don't put valuables in the checked bags). When checking bags, I am often the person waiting and waiting.... The most extreme case of that happened last year when I was forced to gate check my carry-on sized roller bag due to lack of overhead space; it was the very last bag that came out and the conveyor belt even stopped with half of it still sitting inside the rubber curtain! Needless to say, given my experiences, I try hard not to check bags, but I will go with whatever the situation dictates, and on occasion will still check a bag. I think my luggage luck must have all gone to CJean - please give some back!

Posted by
1821 posts

I pack light with a single bag and always book a direct flight to Europe and yes, I check my bag. If I had to make connections I would carry on.

Posted by
7205 posts

OMG - that’s one of those sites designed to scare already-fearful people. It’s one of those silly 20/20 infomercials that just pieces bits of news bites together for dramatic effect. Yes baggage gets delayed, but is that really newsworthy?? Of course not!

Posted by
52 posts

We avoid checking bags unless absolutely forced to by the size of the aircraft! With a twenty inch roll aboard and small tote each we have traveled for up to seven weeks. Almost always, we pack our totes with a change of clothing just in case we have to check our twenty inch bags at the gate.
Really messed up one time on an Alitalia flight from Athens to Venice where we had no choice but to check our bags. After a change of planes in Rome, we arrived at Marco Polo in Venice on a very rainy night. Waited and watched for a long time as two beat up boxes circled around on the carousel. It dawned on us that there might not be any luggage showing up.
Raced over to customer service ahead of the crowd of anxious travelers. The lady in charge (after finishing up a delicious looking chocolate, placing the gilded lid back on the box, retying the satin ribbon, and stowing it in her desk) finally looked up to see me at the head of a throng of by now very upset people.
She started to insist there was just a delay in unloading the bags...but as we all began clamoring for answers, she grabbed her huge umbrella and headed out into the rain. On her return she announced with a grimace that not a single piece of checked luggage had made it onto the flight...not one! I was so happy to be first in line as she laboriously filled out the lost luggage form...it was required that she personally do each form!
Raced to our reserved water taxi where the driver revealed that ours was the last taxi headed to town due to the storm. After a wild ride across the lagoon we finally reached our hotel. We unpacked our totes and realized neither of us had packed a change of underwear much less outerwear. Did a little research on Alitalia and lost luggage and discovered that airline has the worst reputation for delayed and permanently missing bags of any European airline.
Turned the whole luggage issue over to our hotel manager...and for the first time had the fun of shopping for fancy lingerie in Venice! Bags showed up two days later...never again, Alitalia!

Posted by
1878 posts

I agree with what Amy said, although on the long hop flights that go from SFO to Frankfurt or London, etc. I don’t find overhead space to be as much of an issue. Probably because a checked bag is included in the fare. Until you board your connecting flight when it can be crazily small. Also yes the incivility of jockeying for space. People on domestic flights with two full-sized (and more) carry ons. It can take 45 minutes or more to board a big plane as people try and jam their too-big bags in. Mind you, these are not the savvy carry on only travelers found on this board. Will the United Explorer card though I get a free checked bag on domestic plus priority boarding. Check or not, it’s a personal choice and you just have to pick what’s best for you.

Posted by
3307 posts

Some observations:

A one day delay in bag delivery is a minor inconvenience, not the same as lost forever.
To some extent, “ light” is in the eye of the beholder. I don’t think of my self as a pack light person. I like to be clean and look nice. Still, I can fit a lot of clothes, a week’s worth of underwear, sleepwear, 2 pairs of shoes + 1 on me, umbrella, bathing suit, toiletries and meds, electronics, and a book or two into a 20” roller and a carry-on tote. I, personally will not have anything to do with sink-washing or any of the other stratagems advocated by the pack (really) light crowd.
We are past the age of being able to lift even a 20” bag up to the overhead compartment; and while someone always nicely asked if they can help with the tote, I really don’t want to have to schlep my suitcase through the airport when making a transfer. On a recent trip, for example, my husband’s fitbit clocked us as having walked 1.5 miles between our two flights (CDG). Another time, at FRA, we had an extraordinarily long walk between gates. Even the tote began to feel like it weighed a ton.
It is usually possible to find an airline’s record on lost luggage, the poster did with Alitalia and to avoid those with bad ones.

A couple of other precautions have been mentioned. Pack a change of clothing, meds, electronics, and any other essentials in your carry on. If traveling with a partner, divide your possessions between the two bags. And, of course, leave valuables at home.

Posted by
7611 posts

The problem I have with sites like "onebag" and some of the posters here is they come across as "I'm right and you're wrong if you do it differently."
Giving suggestions and sharing experiences are fine, but ultimately how one travels is up to that traveler and we should respect that.

Amen, Frank II.

Posted by
7611 posts

And I'm not a moron, so I never pack items if value in a checked bag.

And Amen, CJean!!!

Posted by
996 posts

When I travel, I always have to check one bag. When we travel abroad for more than a week, we usually check two bags. My other half has a preferred shave cream/aftershave he wants to take. I have my preferred shampoo due to sensitivity issues. We like packing a corkscrew for wine. We are all different. Live and let live.

BUT - I will say that it is prudent to pack as much as you can in a carryon bag. When we traveled to Morocco, my checked bag went missing. Normally I cross-pack our checked luggage so that losing one bag isn't a crisis. This one time, I'd repacked things the night before and failed to follow my personal rule. I was left with my undies and one spare shirt in my carryon when we landed in Casablanca. My bag finally reached me many days later in Marrakech.

From this I learned to always pack two spare shirts (plus the previously mentioned undies) in my carryon bag. It is not always possible - unless you are a standard size which I am not b/c I'm short & high waisted - to find things that work for your body in other countries. I also realized how much excess stuff I had packed, since I made it for well over a week with what I had (plus doing some spot laundry where possible.)

Long story short - pack what you can in carryon, but there's no shame in checked luggage. I still have a checked bag for longer trips.

Posted by
3685 posts

I do carry-on only except when forced to check my carry-on bag, most often by European airlines. Or when I have to gate check due to the size of the airplane.

I have a lovely blue Lipault carry-on with a strip of peacock patterned duct tape over the rip it got the first time I had to gate check it. And it was not so full that it bulged out.

I usually get an aisle seat, but one time in the past few years, I was in a window seat on the side of the plane toward the back where I could see the luggage being loaded. It was not a pretty sight.

Bags with exterior pockets get loaded pocket side down. None too gently, I might add. Soft-sided bags and backpacks stuffed to the gills tend to be round on the exterior pocket side. That makes them tend to roll off the moving belt. Amazingly, I only saw one roll off the belt and plunge 6+ feet to the tarmac.

For these reasons and more, it's highly unlikely that I will ever check a bag unless I'm forced to do so.

Posted by
1217 posts

My issue with “City In The Sky” was that it was only 3-4 episodes and I would have loved a longer show.

I cheerfully check bags all the time and it's been years since I've had a significant issue. I'm pretty much guaranteed to get the TSA slip in my bag coming home because I tend to do things like put a gallon of maple syrup in there (my sister lives a few blocks from a place where I can buy it straight from the trees and it's awesome stuff) and have never had anything go missing. If anything, they repack my stuff better than I do. And yeah, never put anything expensive or very important in checked bags.

It's also a somewhat outdated article- smartbags with their tracking devices as mentioned in it have largely been banned over battery fire concerns and there's no mention of how many typical airline smartphone apps now have a 'track my bags' feature and you can set it up to get text messages when your bag bar code is scanned at different points in the process.

I'm also puzzled about how people manage to get a standard-sized suitcase overweight. I'm married to the guy who can fill a 25" bag for a weekend trip ('but it's snowing in Chicago and I need a big coat and I've got to take my funeral clothes...") and even he doesn't get that close to a 50 pound/22 kilogram limit.

Posted by
802 posts

Our nephew lived with us and at one point worked as a baggage handler for our major international airport. The stories he would tell when he got home ........ With one horrible exception, none of the mishandling stemmed from intentionally bad behavior. It's just a function of having to move that many items of different weight, size and shape to so many different places under enormous time pressure. When I think about it I realize how amazing it is that despite all the noise, smell, weather and large moving vehicles the vast majority of luggage arrives at the right place at the right time in one piece.

Posted by
1217 posts

As someone who once had a flight go IRROPS because the baggage train didn't brake in time and hit the plane hard enough to dent it (small airport and they had to track down the on call mechanic to verify the damage was cosmetic and could be fixed with speed tape) I will say that it can end up being someone else's bag that causes a negative impact on your travel day

Posted by
126 posts

I try to travel with carry on only, not because of fear of my losing my things but because I like to have my stuff with me at all times.
Sometimes I have to gate check if the plane is too small. But I get my things also at the gate when I arrive at my destination and have had no problems so far.
But, I make sure to have with me at all times my medications, documents, important stuff just in case.

And I said it before, I think we all pack and travel to the best of our abilities, so no judging from my part.

Posted by
1217 posts

IRROPS- airline irregular operations aka flight delays, flight cancellations, flight diversions, equipment swaps (a change of planes from the one originally planned for use on that route) and anything else that is not the airline flying from point A to point B as scheduled

Posted by
5 posts

If I'm travelling for a week or more, I do check in a bag, but there's always that mini panic attack when it doesn't come out on the baggage carousel after a while!

Posted by
12898 posts

In all 24 trips to Europe whether as short as 2 weeks or on the longest at 12 weeks, I have always checked in luggage, never lost anything or had any delay in getting the bags other than when they are supposed to be thrown out at baggage claim . I've never tried traveling to Europe with only carry-on.

Now, only the spinner gets checked-in, before I had two pieces checked. The total luggage load has been lightened by redistributing the weight, so the total weight at check-in is a max of 45 lbs distributed in 3 pieces...more flexible that way.

There have been a couple of times, those moments of anxiety, when I was one of the last , say the last 15 % of of those still waiting , for that one remaining piece to be thrown out. Somebody has to be the last one literally just as the first 5 whose bags are out within a minute when the whole process starts.

Posted by
3274 posts

A non sequitur perhaps; but why is it we can check two bags at the same time, for the same flight, but invariably one comes out to the carousel amongst the very first bags, but the second is always amongst the last of the stragglers?

(Rhetorical question, btw)

Posted by
2914 posts

While I have not had a problem checking my own carryon luggage, and generally prefer to do so, I have had guests, who, due to short connections...seems always at Schiphol... have their luggage delayed. Frankly, I don't see a problem with the 'up to 24 hour' delay. My guests have the bag delivered right to my house, usually arriving while we sleep. I think that is better service than schlepping it. YMMV

Posted by
1217 posts

I know you said the question was rhetorical, but bag distribution (and the order in which they come onto a carousel) can often be about proper weight distribution in the cargo hold, particularly on smaller flights and certain 737 types that are prone to somewhat fussy weight and balance calculations.

Posted by
7611 posts

Where's a babelfish when you want one.

Second Hitchhikers Guide référence I have seen tonight on the Forum within just a few posts ! Hmmmm . . .

Posted by
5042 posts

Kim, maybe that should also go on the Atlantis thread...

Posted by
84 posts

I had my luggage lost twice, both times it was sort of a pain, once for my dad’s wedding, so had to purchase a nice dress, etc all on the fly. The 2nd time, for a business trip that included cocktail party, networking outdoor activities, conference time. It was also annoying although I was able to buy some great replacements. I still have a favorite pair of Alaska airlines shoes. Both times the luggage was eventually found after the trip was over. Now, I always carryon my bag. It has the added benefit of forcing me to pack lighter which I never regret.

Posted by
5786 posts

An upside of checking a bag or bags is having your own ski gear and not having to use rental ski gear.

And in the three times my skis were delayed, one was on the flight home and the other two time my skis were delivered to the hotel the same day. It was actually nice to have the airlines deliver my skis to the hotel. I would add that its been many years that my bags were delayed.

That said, I pack my ski boots in my RS Classic Backpack carry-on. If the skis and poles are delayed, I at least have my boots and can try to borrow or rent skis until they are delivered.

Posted by
5623 posts

Edgar, you’re so right about checking your skis but carrying on your boots. And a ski bag allows you to wrap more clothing around your skis, to protect the bindings and stuff more stuff inside that bag!

But I gotta ask . . . How big is Frank II’s soapbox? Less than 22 inches long, and no taller than 9 inches?

Posted by
11834 posts

To me, I'd carry on if there weren't even a remote possibility of lost or delayed luggage.

When arriving in Europe (and when I return), I'm out of the airport while people are waiting for their bags. I have no second thoughts about public transportation; I don't need to take a cab - because I have bags. When I take a train from one city to another, it's easy to hop on with my carry on and easy to keep my bag with me. Bags don't need to be stored out of sight at the end of the car.

Thieves also target tourists who are overburdened. I keep everything in one bag (one handle) so I don't have a lot to keep track of.

If nothing else, it's nice not to be weighed down - especially on a hot day in a crowded city.