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I always believed that if I check in my luggage late I will get it first, it worked with me few times but I start to believe this was pure luck. In my flight today I am sure I was the last one to check in a piece of luggage, but I got it last and I had to wait for so long, and the flight was a wide-bodied long haul full flight - it was a nightmare!

How true is the "last in first out" concept for checked in luggage? Any tips on this matter other than booking a first class seat?

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It has been suggested that priority baggage tags can sometimes slow things down, so booking a high class doesn't always help! –  Gagravarr Aug 14 '13 at 16:27
    
@Gagravarr so I guess luck has a big deal in all cases –  Nean Der Thal Aug 14 '13 at 16:29
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The quickest trick is to travel light. I am still amazed how much i can fit in a carry on trolley –  user141 Aug 15 '13 at 23:42
    
My experience in East Asia is that having an airline status (Such as SkyTeam Elite) definitely means your bag is coming out first, no matter what. –  Andrew Oct 31 '13 at 12:16

5 Answers 5

up vote 17 down vote accepted

Recently I was watching luggage handlers loading luggage into my plane at Amsterdam Schiphol while I was queueing to board (20-30 minutes before takeoff). There was a female luggage handler who started unloading a luggage-cart train starting form the last cart. She was very slow and would pick up only smaller pieces. I suppose she was waiting for males to help her with the heavier ones. Smaller as well as soft pieces were actually stacked on top of the carts while the massive hardcases would lie at the bottom of the carts. Clearly some sorting must have been done while loading (which was reassuring since I was traveling with a soft backpack). As I didn't see my luggage there, I suppose it had already been loaded (I had a 2.5h transfer at Schiphol). However, at the luggage reclaim I got my luggage quite quickly. Interestingly, I met a traveller who had exactly the same flights as me and when I was leaving the airport he was still waiting for his piece. One of differences was - I had a backpack while he had a regular suitcase.

My point is, I saw only a small part of the whole process, yet there was plenty of room for scrambling the order. It is mostly manual work done by a number of individuals and I guess that makes it pretty unpredictable.

As for the backpacks - I mentioned that as I came across several airports where they have separate bag drops for backpacks with loose straps so I assume there might be different ways of handling these. However, I haven't noticed or heard of any (dis)advantages of having this type of luggage.

Finally, I kind of accepted that it is a pure chance when I reclaim my luggage and I usually try to do a little trick. I just get busy with various things between the landing and reclaiming the luggage. During that time I tidy up my hand luggage, change clothes when going to warmer/colder places, tidy up my wallet - replacing currencies, preparing bus tickets etc., go to bathroom to refresh myself, be it makeup or brushing my teeth, also, after a long flight it is nice to do some stretching. Playing with the phone is fine too - change a SIM card, maybe look for a socket to charge it a bit. After completing all these things I approach a baggage reclaim place full of impatient people waiting there already for ages. For me it is only the beginning of waiting and typically I get my luggage within a few minutes and my nerves are saved.

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Good tip re:busying yourself. Alternatively, you may want to travel to airports where there is rarely a need to wait for baggage. Zurich Airport is pretty nice in that regard. –  Jonas Aug 16 '13 at 7:05

It's not really true - especially if you have a transfer. The idea behind this concept is of course that if your bag is last, it'll go near the cargo-hold door, and come out before anyone elses. The reality is that the luggage handlers put your bags on their carts in an arbitrary place and hook them up in an arbitrary position of their little luggage-cart trains. Then, they arbitrarily load them onto the plane. The net effect is that everyone's luggage is scrambled - even more so after the people at the receiving airport unload it, and compounded further if you have connections.

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I am pretty sure they start loading the cargo containers before the check in process is done... –  Nean Der Thal Aug 14 '13 at 16:45

At Heathrow Airport (LHR), bags are individually loaded into containers. The carts move at high speed to the aircraft.

However, as the carts are like trains, where they meet some have to wait. However, late bags go in last, but can come out from either side. So I would say the process is random. You can take a look at this video

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It depends a lot on the circumstances and the airports involved. But yes, that can very well be the case.

So, whenever I had a short transit (< 30 mins), I received the luggage among the first at my final destination. The hypothesis being of course that since my luggage arrived way after the others, First-In-Last-Out implies that it gets out first.

I can only offer personal observations, but I noticed this quite often - very late luggage (being Business class also helps) gets luggage first. Note that this does not imply that always, later luggage comes out earlier: At most airports, the big bulk of luggage gets collected together and stored in the airport with one or two charges. These come in together, no matter the order.

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I have seen on some airlines (mainly Emirates, but I think one more has it but the name escapes me) tag your bags with priority clearance if you are flying business or first.

However, it is not guaranteed to be the absolute first bag unloaded - you are just guaranteed it won't be dead last; and even then only at the airline's hub.

Bag load configuration depends heavily on the aircraft. Some larger aircraft carry standard size cargo bins which are loaded at random, and then distributed based on the current configuration of the aircraft (the exact load order is determined by the load master).

Upon arrival, one (or multiple) doors are opened and luggage is unloaded; typically from one side of the aircraft - it is almost always the opposite side from where passengers are disembarking.

If your flight is transit; then you might see two doors open where one is for loading and the other unloading luggage.

Luggage then makes it to the luggage loading bay, where it is put on a conveyor belt; and depending on the airport you might have multiple miles between the loading bay and the final deposit chute where luggage arrives.

During this travel time for luggage, it may be subject to multiple scans, stops, re-routes based on the particular airport - or, as is the case with some airports, it might just be some bloke chucking your bag through a hole onto a belt, which then meanders down to you (I'm looking at you, ISB).

Anyway, all that means is that there is no rhyme or reason for the order in which bags start arriving at the collection turnstile.

Some things that do make a difference:

  1. Luggage checked "gate side" (usually, baby strollers and the carry-ons on full flights) are unloaded separately from the normal luggage, and this means they usually arrive quicker.

  2. Soft bags (as others have mentioned) may be offloaded quicker - but this depends entirely on how they were loaded in the first place.

  3. Odd-sized luggage or over-sized luggage is usually handled separately.

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Priority baggage is extremely unreliable, except in Asia. It is not unusual for it to come out last if the bins are unloaded in the wrong order. Source: Many years of experience with many airlines. –  Calchas Jun 8 at 11:30
    
Yeah it works better if you are disembarking on the airline's hub. –  Burhan Khalid Jun 8 at 11:49
    
Actually I think it is the other way around. The luggage is prioritised at the airport where it is loaded by putting onto the aircraft in reverse order. Outside of Japan/HK, no one is going to sort it when it gets unloaded. However, it can still easily be pushed out of order during the dispatch to the belt. –  Calchas Jun 8 at 11:54

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