Have you ever wondered what happens to your baggage once it’s checked at an airport? Considering all the security measures you need to go through, you might think your luggage goes under the same scrutiny, but can the airline staff go through all your checked baggage?
Airlines take your baggage through an x-ray or sometimes a CT scanner to look through the items inside. These scanners can see the shapes and densities of the objects inside. The staff might even open your luggage and inspect it in some cases. Moreover, your bag may be checked by chemical sniffers.
If you’re curious to know more, read below as I explain what exactly happens to your baggage after check-in, what scanners do, and what happens to your luggage between connecting flights.
What Happens To Baggage After You Check-in?
Once you check in your bag, the staff puts it on a conveyor belt that takes them to the sorting office, usually located at the back area of the airport. Inside this office, the bags are screened and scanned, either by staff or machines.
Your baggage can be scanned and checked in different ways. It may go through an x-ray or a similar scanning device that works pretty much the same way the body scanners at the airport work. These devices are pretty fast, and every bag goes through them. Additionally, your bag might be checked by a chemical sniffer.
Some particular bags may go through a Computer Tomography Scanner, which is a more thorough but slower scanner. Because it’s slower, not all bags go through it. Generally, they will only put your bags through this machine if your ticket set off any red flags.
If the scanner reveals something that seems suspicious or unknown to the staff, someone may open your luggage and inspect it. However, this doesn’t happen too often.
Once the time comes for the plane to leave, the bags will be taken and brought to the aircraft for loading, with airport agents making sure they get to the right plane. The bags go up a conveyor belt to what is called the hold, where a staff member places them carefully, ensuring that the bags are secure and do not move during the flight.
After the plane lands, the bags are unloaded and transported to the airport, where they are placed onto a conveyor belt, where passengers wait to pick them up again.
What Items May Seem Suspicious?
When your baggage goes through scanners and x-ray machines, TSA agents look for specific items that may be harmful to the passengers on the plane. You might think you’re in the clear if you don’t have literal explosives or guns. However, the list of items that are not allowed to be in your checked baggage is more extensive:
- Flares or fireworks
- Lithium batteries
- Cigarette lighters
- Fire extinguishers
- Imitation guns or imitation explosive devices
- Pepper spray
- Alcohol over 140 proof
The actual list is much longer and more detailed. All of the above items can cause harm to the passengers or the plane itself, posing risks of fires or explosions. If the scanner picks any of these items up, you may be fined or not allowed to board.
Before you pack your luggage, check with the TSA website if you’re thinking of packing something that might be deemed suspicious. If you are packing relatively unusual items that may not be on the list, like a kettlebell, you may take your chances or check with the airline.
Can Scanners See Everything Inside Your Luggage?
As mentioned above, there are different types of scanners that can see through your bags. Your bag will first go through a quick x-ray scan. The x-ray machine picks up the shape of the items inside your bag, creating a pretty clear picture of what’s inside, detailing whether the items are made of organic or inorganic material.
If your bag goes through a CT scan, the airport staff can get a much more detailed picture of all the items inside. The CT scan is an empty tube with a mechanism revolving around it, taking continuous x-rays. The result of the CT scan is a complete slice of the bag. It can detect the weight and density of every item.
Potential dangerous materials have specific weights and densities that are picked up by the scanner. Security is then alerted, and they can open your bag to check every item. If they see something suspicious, you will be notified. Otherwise, they will finish checking the bag and move on with the next bag.
Do Airlines Check Your Baggage Between Connecting Flights?
Generally speaking, it is understood that your airline will make sure the bag will be moved from the first plane to the second without additional screening. Some airlines may let you know or ask if you want the bag checked through to the destination. If they don’t, you can always ask during check-in to ensure your baggage will be at the baggage claim when you land.
In most cases, you won’t need to pick up your bag at baggage claim and then have it checked in for your second flight. However, sometimes two airlines don’t have an interline agreement, so you’ll be required to re-check your bag. Your airline ticket should let you know if this is the case.
After the first plane lands, the bags will be unloaded and sorted again. While other bags will go to baggage claim, yours and others that are supposed to be on connecting flights will be transported to the respective airplanes, ready to be loaded. There will be no screening between planes.
Do Bags Get Checked in International Connecting Flights?
The situation with international connecting flights may differ depending on where you are and where you plan to go. If you’re in the United States connecting from an international flight, you’ll most likely need to re-check your bag. However, in other countries, you may not need to.
To find out if you need to re-check or not, check if the label attached to your bag says the name of the last destination. If it does, you don’t need to re-check.
Some airports have simplified re-checking procedures, so you don’t have to go through the whole process all over again. You can just drop your bags in the re-checking area and wait for the next flight.
What if You Miss Your Connecting Flight?
Do you still have your bag with you if you missed the connecting flight? Two scenarios can play out, depending on why you missed the flight. If your first flight was delayed, causing you to miss the connecting one, then your baggage will be with you since it was also part of the first flight.
If the first flight landed in time and, for some reason, you were late and missed the flight, your baggage is on the connecting flight, having been loaded by the airport staff. In this case, the luggage will be unloaded and transported to baggage claim, where it will inevitably be left behind. The airport staff will most likely take it and store it for you.
Airlines screen all the checked baggage using x-ray machines to ensure no prohibited items are inside your bag. Prohibited items include lighters, electronic cigarettes, batteries, and more. Your bag may also go through a CT scan or be opened by the airport staff if it is deemed suspicious.
If you have a connecting flight, your bag will not go through scanning once more if your flight is domestic. If you’re on an international connecting flight, you may have to re-check your bag, but some airlines have simplified procedures for this case.