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Is There a Way for my Luggage to Arrive First at Baggage Claim?

By Stefanie Waldek, Travel + Leisure, May 2023

Is there a way for my luggage to arrive first at baggage claim? In a rush to collect your suitcase from baggage claim?

These tips might help.While many travelers opt to live the carry-on-only life, there are some instances in which you must check a bag. And unfortunately, that often means waiting for what feels like an eternity at the baggage claim. If you're looking for a surefire way to get your bag first, we've got some bad news for you — there isn't one. What we can tell you is that there are some tricks that might have your bag pop out on the earlier side.

Generally speaking, the bags that are loaded into the cargo hold last are often the first that are unloaded. Because of this, some travelers like to check in their bags as late as possible — but bags can end up being loaded on the plane in any order. One way to work around that is to ask to gate check your bag before boarding. This requires you to bring your suitcase through security, which means you'll be limited to a carry-on size bag and you won't be able to bring large liquids through. Gate checking is often complimentary, and your bag might be loaded last and therefore come out first at baggage claim. But sadly, there are no guarantees.

One method that's supposed to assure early retrieval at baggage claim — at least for some airlines — is using priority baggage services. Priority baggage service is offered to frequent flyers with certain tiers of elite status, as well as business and first-class passengers. When you go to check your bag in, ensure that the agent affixes a priority tag to your bag (they look different for each airline). Checked bags labeled with priority tags are technically supposed to be offloaded before other bags, but that's frequently not the case. Still, it can't hurt to try your luck. And you should note that some airlines offer something of a mea culpa for late-arriving bags. Delta offers passengers traveling on domestic flights 2,500 miles if their bag does not appear at the claim within 20 minutes of the aircraft door opening. To claim those miles, you'll have to fill out a form online.

Even if there isn't a way to guarantee your bag will be one of the first arrivals at the baggage claim, there are a number of ways to keep tabs on where your bag is. You can affix trackers like Apple AirTags or Tiles to your bag, which might give you an indication that your bag has left the plane and is on its way to the baggage claim. Some airlines also use RFID tracking to show exactly where your bag is in the travel process, from when it's scanned into the cargo hold to when it's scanned into the baggage claim.

Finally, we'd like to leave you with a few tips to make your checked baggage experience a little easier.

  • Make sure you remove all old bag tags from your suitcase before checking it in, though you can leave your personal tag with your contact information and address on your suitcase (and we suggest you do!).

  • When the agent tags your bag at check-in, look at the receipt they hand you and check that the final destination is correct.

  • Pick a unique suitcase or attach some sort of differentiator to your bag to more easily identify it at the baggage claim. Some travelers use colorful luggage straps or ribbons tied to the handles.

  • At the baggage claim, double-check which claim your flight has been assigned to, as this can change from the time you land to the time you walk to the claim.

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