Pick up your bags in 30 minutes (if you are lucky)

Let’s face it, US-based airlines have never been quick in getting the check-in luggages onto the baggage claim carousels. The average time for my check-in bags to show up at the carousel from the moment the plane arrives at the gate, regardless of the airline i travel on, is more than 30 minutes. In this day and age of air travel where passengers are pretty much forced to check in their luggages due to the dwindling number of items allowed in the carry-on bags. You would think that airlines and airports would make an effort to improve the check-in baggage delivery time with the increase in the volume of check-in bags. Nope. Check-in bags are still taking as long as before, if not longer (it took about 45 minutes on one of my recent flights).

Why is it so difficult to have my check-in bags show up the moment i arrive at the baggage claim carousel? I have flown to numerous airports in the U.S. and international cities and the difference in baggage delivery time is like night and day. In the last two years, i flew to China on three occasions. I flew into four different Chinese airports (Shanghai, Beijing, Wuhan and Fuzhou) on three international flights and two domestic flights, and in all of my flights, my check-in bags were already on the carousels when i arrived to pick them up. Has any of my check-in bags ever shown up on the carousels in any US airports the moment i arrive to pick them up in the last ten years of travel, averaging at least 75,000 miles a year? Never. Not even once.

Why do US-based airlines have such a miserable check-in luggage delivery time?

  • Inadequate number of baggage handlers per flight. On most of the domestic flights i took, i have not seen more than two baggage handlers per flight unloading the bags. One guy loads the bags onto the conveyor vehicle and the second guy picks them up from the conveyor vehicle into the baggage truck. As airlines keep trying reduce cost by hiring the minimal number of baggage handlers needed per flight, the delivery time of the check-in luggages suffers.
  • No designated baggage handlers for each airport. By that, i mean each airline here has its own baggage handlers. Of all the international (non-US) airports that i have been to, most of the baggage (or ground) handlers that i have seen are actually employed by designated ground handling firms, instead of being employed by the airlines. For example, the ground handling services in Singapore’s Changi International Airport are handled by three companies: Singapore Airport Terminal Services (SATS), Changi International Airport Services (CIAS) and Swissport. I believe having a designated ground handling crew for the whole airport helps set a uniform standard for baggage delivery.
  • Poorly designed and antiquated airport baggage claim areas. Some of the domestic airport terminals that i have been to do not even have a centralized display to inform passengers the baggage claim carousels where their check-in bags will show up. One good example of an extremely badly designed baggage claim area is Terminal 2 of the Phoenix Sky Harbor airport. Terminal 2 baggage claim area serves five airlines (Alaska, Air Canada, Continental, Ted and United) but there are only four baggage claim carousels.

    Baggage claim area at Terminal 2 of Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport

    Baggage claim area at Terminal 2 of Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport

    Imagine passengers from four different flights crowding around the baggage claim area at the same time. These four oval carousels are situated in a tiny area about 15 feet apart from each other in a square shape. In the middle of each carousel is a display that is supposed to indicate your flight. I said “supposed to” because half the time i don’t see my Alaska air flight number showing up on any of the four displays. How hard is it to have a centralized display that informs me which carousel my bag will show up on? Why do i have to check each of the four displays to figure out where my bag will end up? On a few occasions, it was announced that bags from my flight would show up on one particular carousel but ended up appearing on another carousel. Of course, i didn’t figure that out until it was too late.

    When i arrived at the Shanghai Pudong International airport, on one of the many centralized displays i easily located the baggage claim carousel where my bag showed up, and yes, the moment i arrived at the carousel.

2 Comments

JohnDecember 11th, 2006 at 21:46

Well, to be fair, on international flights you have to wait forever through Immigration, therefore giving them time to unload the luggage.

And the other problem is unions. You have the pilots union, flight attendants union, mechanics union, luggage handlers union, and toilet bowl cleaner union. Okay, I made up the last one, but unions are definitely not a good thing of modern economy.

ktulaDecember 11th, 2006 at 22:02

I took the time to get through immigration into consideration. That’s why i mentioned that fact that even domestic flights within China, my bags arrived at the carousels prior to me showing up.

Since i wrote about Terminal 2 of Phoenix Sky Harbor airport, the baggage delivery time for my last two flights have been at least 10 minutes quicker than before. The last two flights, it took an average of 20 minutes. That’s amazingly fast for American airport standard. Co-incidence?

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