It’s a pact that you make every time you check a bag. Whether you realize it or not, every time you fly, you’re putting your trust in someone you’ve never met: a baggage handler. They’re on the front lines when it comes to making sure your all important luggage gets from point A to point B. Yet, what do we really know about the men and women taxiing our stuff along the runway while we judge whether or not to spend ten bucks for a coffee? Who are the people who look after our bags in transit … and how much do they really care about the job at hand? Well, we’ve done the research and here are some secrets of professional baggage handlers, plus a few useful tips to help your bags get to where you want them.
1. How Common Is Theft?
In all honesty, not very. Okay, a person who handles bags for a living may have some incentive to claim that it’s not that common, but your stuff really is pretty safe when you check your bags. Usually, the worst thing that could happen is that your bag gets checked and they don’t bother to be gentle about it.
2. However, Theft Does Happen
Miami-Dade Police Department recently set up hidden cameras to investigate luggage thefts by airport workers, and caught several baggage handlers pilfering through luggage and pocketing booty. These individuals were prosecuted, and are a minority exception to the many honest, hardworking handlers working at airports, but it is wise to be concerned about this type of theft. The fact remains, 31 baggage handlers and ramp workers since have been arrested at Miami International Airport since 2012. A CNN analysis found that there were 30,621 claims of missing valuables in checked luggage filed with the TSA between 2010 and 2014, amounting to a loss of $2.5 million.
3. Which Airport Has the Most Baggage Theft Claims?
That dubious honor goes to New York’s J.F.K., followed by L.A.X and Orlando International. The problem at J.F.K. caused El Al Airlines to set up a hidden camera operation in 2013, which caught baggage handlers red handed stealing items like watches, iPhones, cameras, gold rings and cash. Again, in 2014, two more J.F.K handlers were arrested for swiping designer handbags from suitcases then trying to sell them on EBay.
4. The Bag Toss Game
Maybe it’s not a great idea to pack your valuables in the hold. One anonymous baggage handler admitted that he and his coworkers had made a game of tossing the bags from the belly of the plane onto the conveyor belt. They’d throw the bags at each other as hard as they can, sometimes causing damage.
5. The Damage-Able Bag
When you’re picking luggage, consider buying stuff that’s tougher than it is fashionable. One baggage handler said that the more high-end bags, like Louis Vuitton, were more prone to getting damaged. And when you consider the aforementioned bag toss game, it’s probably a good idea to look for durability.
6. Dear Lord, the Heat
Imagine the summer, when the heat spikes and even leaving the house seems like a chore. Then, imagine that the driving heat feels closer to 120 degrees because you’re surrounded by jet engines and a sea of heat-collecting concrete. Then, imagine that on top of that, you’re crammed into the hold of a plane having to stack luggage precisely. That’s July for a baggage handler.
7. The Back Problems
Perhaps unsurprisingly, but professional baggage handlers who stick with the job tend to suffer from severe joint and muscle pains. Of particular issue are chronic back problems that can plague the men and women who sometimes haul as many as 125,000 bags in a single year. That’s like hauling 340 suitcase every day for a year.
8. Larger Aircraft
This is probably (maybe) a little bit daunting to the industry, but larger planes are actually loaded by machine onto the plane (which eliminates the need for “throwing” your bag). So, theoretically, on longer flights, your luggage is just a mite safer than if you’re, say, hitting a puddle jumper between cities.
9. Upping The Odds of Lost Luggage
You might roll your eyes when your parents tell you to get to the airport two and a half hours before your flight. It seems a little like overkill, right? However, according to professional baggage handlers, the most likely reason for lost luggage is checking your bags at the last minute. Sure, security might only take a half hour (if you wear slip-ons), but your bag needs some prep time, too.
10. Human Error
There’s another way to increase the odds of your lost luggage. When you have to transfer planes mid-flight, you’re substantially increasing the odds that your luggage is going to go missing. Another way to add to those odds is to leave your old bag tags on from previous trips.
11. Keep the Receipt
The most important thing you can do as a flyer when it comes to keeping your luggage is to simply keep the other half of your baggage receipt (the one they give you at the counter when you check your bag). That receipt will likely be invaluable when it comes to trying to find your suitcase in the event it’s lost.
12. The Environment
So, in addition to the extreme weather conditions, baggage handlers have to keep their head on a swivel when they’re on the tarmac. It’s hot, there are jet engines firing, and the noise is so loud that hearing protection is an absolute must when handlers are on the job. These hardworking folks deserve our respect for what they endure.
13. What’s the Pay Like?
Poor. For a job that requires a strenuous level of physical activity, sometimes in pretty severe conditions, most airport baggage handler jobs only pay about minimum wage. What’s more, some shifts begin as early as 4 a.m. In other words, it’s a tough job with one pretty decent benefit: baggage handlers fly for free.
14. A Few More Baggage Tips
In addition to going for durability, you should also consider getting a bag with hard sides, and — according to the people who handle them — bags with four wheels tend to be a little more sturdy. What’s more, when you’re packing, you’ll want to keep the weight in your bag down, not only because the airline will charge you for the extra weight, but because heavier bags tend to break more easily.
15. Okay, One More Baggage Tip
So, so far: hard-sided, wheeled, lightly-packed suitcase. Well, you also need to make sure that you don’t have anything hanging of the side of the bag, like straps and whatnot. Those can get caught on conveyor belts, or wheels and your luggage can end up taking a real beating as a result.
16. What About Vengeance?
You know that a-hole in front of you in line? The one in the double-layered polo shirt and Crocs, the one who spends literally the entire time talking on his phone — even when he’s checking in. That guy. You know how good his odds are of having his luggage put on the wrong plane? Next to none. It pretty much only happens by accident.
17. More Than Just Bags
You might (righteously) be only concerned about your bags, but just remember that the team on the tarmac has to handle much more than just your luggage. Most airports have a wide variety of cargo being transported; in addition, lots of baggage handlers also direct the pilots, secure the planes, and hook up any necessary cables.