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I was flying KLM from the UK to the USA with a short layover in Amsterdam.

Because of delays in the UK, I almost missed my flight. The flight attendant told me my bag wasn't going to make it, but if I walk fast, my gate is just two over.

When I got to the gate, they had already closed the doors, but the counter was opened - I mentioned that my bag was not going to make it, but that's okay. She said, "hold on," got onto her walkie-talkie, and said,

"Yep, that's what I thought: you can't fly if your bag's not going."

I originally thought that it might be a security concern, but that doesn't really make any sense.

Why can't I travel if my luggage doesn't make the connection?

EDIT: I should clarify that I have no beef with KLM - they treated my overnight in Amsterdam professionally and helpfully; I'm just curious what the reason would be.

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Odd, I ran for a connection at Seattle-Tacoma, bags didn't make it, no problem. Except for waiting 24 hours for the bags to follow. – Andrew Lazarus Jan 28 at 1:39
US and European policies are very different. US doesn't seem to care If you and your bags fly on different planes. Europe does. – DJClayworth Jan 28 at 3:13
@Mikey: If a passenger doesn’t show up, their luggage will be unloaded. – chirlu Jan 28 at 14:10
@HarryVervet Same with me - I ran to make a connection in Kyiv Boryspil, flying to London. I made it, but the bags didn't. They arrived the next day, but someone (presumably security-related?) has gone through everything in them, as thing inside were clearly packed differently from how I packed them. Oh well, I don't have a problem with somebody going through my dirty clothes :) – Aleks G Jan 28 at 14:47
Associated (but not duplicate) question:… – Willeke Jan 28 at 17:35

In general, your luggage and you need to be on the same plane because if it contains a bomb then they want you to perish. In this case, it might be you've been pulling tricks with purchasing a ticket for a notoriously delayed flight in hopes you get separated from your bag-bomb. If it's not your fault then that's apparently fine because lost / delayed / misrouted baggage happens all the time. But then you don't know so apparently that's fine. Obviously whoever created this policy never heard of suicide bombers and airport screening.

Edit: this is outlined in the IATA Recommended Procedure 1739 Passenger/Baggage Reconciliation Procedures. In US Code - Section 44901: Screening passengers and property the following is mentioned:

A bag-match program that ensures that no checked baggage is placed aboard an aircraft unless the passenger who checked the baggage is aboard the aircraft.

but this was only for "any piece of checked baggage that is not screened by an explosive detection system". I am speculating this might have stayed in place even when such a system was deployed.

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Could you provide a source for this policy? (Considering @HarryVervet is disputing the claim) – Insane Jan 28 at 4:09
I'm not disagreeing but doesn't this invalidate the entire security process that is supposed to ensure your bag doesn't contain a bomb. Also, there are countless examples of people with bombs who are willing to kill I'm not sure how effective this would be in practice. – Rob P. Jan 28 at 4:26
The 1985 Air India luggage bomb was probably what prompted the rule. The terrorists arranged for their luggage to be transferred to a connecting flight, but they didn't board the plane themselves. The x-ray machine that would normally check the luggage was broken that day. In any case, saying that a policy is unnecessary because it prevents only some bombings and not 100% of them is not a very convincing argument. – Moyli Jan 28 at 9:08
@Moyli Also could be the Lockerbie bombing. This happened more than once, which is why in Europe they are very strict about enforcing the rule now. In the US they do not worry about it. – Calchas Jan 28 at 10:10
Wow I thought at first this answer was a joke, never thought about it like that. +1. – JonH Jan 28 at 18:47

This is probably the policy because of the problems delayed luggage causes at the other end, specifically with clearing US Customs. While airports/airlines usually have a protocol to clear luggage in the absence of the passenger, it is more hassle and paperwork than having the passenger take the luggage through customs themselves.

The KLM Conditions of Carriage seem to support this (my emphasis):

10.2 Checked Baggage
10.2.1 General Provisions
(d) Carrier will try, as much as reasonable possible, to arrange that Checked Baggage is carried on the same aircraft as the Passenger. Amongst others, for operating or security/safety reasons, the Checked Baggage may be carried on another flight. In this case, the Carrier will deliver the Baggage to the Passenger, unless the applicable regulations require the Passenger to be present for a customs inspection.

It is very unlikely this is the policy primarily for security purposes. On domestic flights in the US, I have on occasion had my luggage flown on an earlier flight than myself. For example, recently when I flew into Newark from the UK, I had a five or so hour layover in Newark before my connecting flight, but my luggage was put on an earlier flight to my final destination.

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Just checking I've understood this right - does this mean that on flights to a US destination, your luggage can arrive before you do but not after? Or that it has to arrive at the same time as you do on international flights to the US (but this doesn't apply to internal flights)? – user568458 Jan 28 at 9:54
@user568458 No, this is not true. Your customs declaration is deemed to apply to your bags that should be with you. Your baggage may be searched in your absence, but usually it will be released by customs quite quickly and delivered to your address inside the USA. – Calchas Jan 28 at 10:11
It really is for security purposes, but the USA for once is not worried about it and doesn't apply the rule. However, in Europe, after a series of baggage bombs were used to down airliners, the system is designed to prevent you from predicting when your bag will be on a flight and you won't. – Calchas Jan 28 at 10:15
@Calchas My understanding of the European rule is that the passenger can't cause their luggage to be on a different flight from themselves (i.e. by checking in luggage, but not boarding their flight.) If the airline or other operational concerns cause it, then it's allowed, since it's clear that the passenger wasn't trying to cause their bags to be on a different flight in a case like the OP's where the bags just didn't make a delayed connection. Especially in light of the quote from KLM's CoC, I'd guess that the customs issues mentioned here are the correct answer. – reirab Jan 28 at 16:12
@HarryVervet It's not really "lax", it's just that the US has a high degree of confidence in their baggage screening process. – Calchas Jan 28 at 16:54

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