Take the fast lane through baggage claim with these 7 tips
Nobody likes baggage claims. They're crowded, often cavernous and full of people ready to start their trip or get back home.
You can spend less time in the airport and increase the odds your bag will be on the same flight as you if you carry on your luggage. That's not always feasible, though. Sometimes, you want (or need) to check a bag.
When you fall into that category, you'll inevitably find yourself in the baggage claim area, which is rarely the highlight of any trip. However, there are ways to make the experience a little less bothersome.
Here are our tips for surviving a visit to the baggage carousel and getting your bag quickly so you can increase your odds of having a relatively painless baggage claim experience.
Related: How to avoid checked baggage fees on major domestic airlines
Make sure your bag is properly tagged
First, to get out of baggage claim as soon as possible, you need to prepare your bag for success before you even take off. Watch that the airline (or you, if you're self-tagging your bag) has tagged it properly to your final destination.
Don't forget to remove any old tags before arriving at the airport. Also, if you are eligible for any priority or elite tag designations on your bag, make sure the airline attendant attaches them.
While you're at it, make sure your name and phone number are attached to the bag in at least two locations ... just in case.
Related: These are the checked bags carried by TPG's staff
Toss in an AirTag
Another tip to know where your checked bag is and decrease your time in baggage claim is to toss an AirTag in your checked bag before turning it over to the airline. This can help you determine if it arrived in the right city and potentially even help you track it down within the baggage claim area if it doesn't come out on the expected carousel.
An AirTag in my checked bag saved the day at the end of the busy holiday travel period when bags in the baggage claim area of George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) were literally piled up everywhere with little rhyme or reason. I was able to find my bag far on the opposite side of the building by a carousel I did not expect it to be thanks to my trusty AirTag.
Seriously, spend the $29 on an AirTag so you don't regret your life choices later.
Don't look like everyone else
Standing out in a crowd isn't just a fashion statement; it helps your bag out, too.
Don't be the 20th nondescript black rollaboard on your flight. If you use a bag that looks similar to others, do something to differentiate it. Consider adding a colorful ribbon, a bold bag tag or another unique accessory.
If you'd rather your bag itself look very different, choose a bold, limited-time pattern the next time you shop for a new bag. These new ones from Away are great options for color-loving travelers.
Make sure you're at the right carousel — really
Being at the right baggage carousel sounds like a no-brainer tip. However, when locating the right carousel requires checking a screen in a crowded baggage claim area (and rechecking it to make sure your designated carousel hasn't changed), it's easy to head to the wrong carousel.
Stay alert for any changes to where the bags will offload. This is not always announced, so if it's been more than a few minutes and nothing is happening, make sure you're in the right spot.
In the event of a baggage apocalypse event where bags are piling up, pay extra attention to announcements and the monitor showing where bags are being placed, as the airport may send some bags from your flight to an alternate carousel. Be ready to look around if it isn't coming off in a timely manner.
Related: Last one standing at the carousel: Here are your odds of your bag being lost or delayed
Position yourself where you can see the bags coming down
Things happen, and folks sometimes accidentally grab the wrong bag. You'll save yourself time and hassle by being in a spot where you can see the bags for your flight as they come down the shoot.
This doesn't mean you have to jockey for a spot right in front of the shoot like an offensive lineman guarding the quarterback. Just be sure you pick a spot where you can look for your luggage, like the avid bag spotter you are, so you can easily grab your bag as it comes down.
Remember to verify it is indeed your bag before you leave the airport, as it's a much easier mix-up to fix in the moment.
Related: Stop behaving badly at baggage claim: Etiquette tips from the experts
Start the clock
No one wants to hang around the baggage claim area. However, there simply isn't enough space on many planes for all bags to be brought as carry-ons.
To address this situation, some airlines have a fun incentive for checking a bag. Delta Air Lines and Alaska Airlines will both give you 2,500 bonus miles if your checked bags aren't out on the carousel within 20 minutes of the aircraft door opening.
There are a few rules to know about that guarantee, but on the whole, it's pretty easy to snag some bonus points if it takes longer than 20 minutes for the bags to come out on those airlines.
Keep looking (and don't leave empty-handed)
There are times when you can do everything listed here and still find yourself at the losing end of a trip to baggage claim. Before giving up and accepting that you lost this round, do a final look around all the carousels and potential piles of bags near the carousels. Also, check the area where the larger bags and specialty items (think: car seats and skis) come out.
If you have an AirTag, see what the last known location is for your bag. If it shows it is in the baggage claim area, keep looking.
After you've hit dead ends with all of the above, be sure to talk to your airline's baggage claim office or attendant. See if they can help track your bag's location via your boarding pass and baggage claim stickers. If your bag really isn't there, start the paperwork process of reporting a missing bag before you leave.
The airline may be able to give you something like a car seat to use if needed. Know, too, that this is when delayed and lost baggage compensation from the airline or even your credit cards may kick in.
Related: 7 steps to take when an airline loses your luggage
If you don't like spending time at baggage claim, use these tips to make your visit as quick and painless of a stop on your journey as possible.
Now that you're armed with the knowledge to get in, get out and get on with your trip, you can spend less time worrying about checking a bag and more time focusing on other elements of your vacation, such as where you parked your car or pick up a rental car in the airport garage.