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I have a flight with Delta from Philadelphia to Atlanta (19:18 to 21:47), and then a flight with KLM from Atlanta to Amsterdam (22:40 to 12:55).

I spoke with Delta and KLM and they said my luggage can have its destination designated as Amsterdam so I don't need to re-check my luggage in Atlanta. Given the short layover, I am very concerned about the possibility that the baggage teams will not have adequate time to get my luggage to my next flight.

Is this a valid concern? If so, what is my best option? Ask to re-check my own luggage at Atlanta? Look into getting an earlier first flight to extend my layover time?

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    Baggage drop-off will close 1 hour before your flight departs from ATL, so re-checking your own bags isn't an option (and that's just one of the reasons it would be a bad idea) – Doc Jul 27 at 23:07
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    The OP should also check when they need to be at the gate for the KLM flight. – Patricia Shanahan Jul 28 at 0:32
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    The only time I've had baggage issues on a short connection has been that my luggage has made the connection and I have not. – Kate Gregory Jul 28 at 16:40
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    ATL (presently the world's busiest airport, I believe) is fantastic - it's pretty likely your bags will easily make the connection. Checking them out absolutely will NOT help you! Leave them in the automatic system. Also, try to eat at all the good restaurants :) – Fattie Jul 29 at 16:53
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    Were these purchased on the same reservation, or booked separately? – johnVonTrapp Jul 29 at 23:09
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With a connection time of slightly under an hour, you're right that it's a possibility your bags won't make the connection.

It's quite likely that your bags will be labelled (or marked in the electronic tracking system) as "hot", meaning "get this bag off the plane and onto the connecting flight ASAP".

Re-checking your own luggage at Atlanta probably wouldn't help, if anything it would make things slower, as you'd have to wait for your luggage, queue up to drop it off then possibly re-clear security.

Changing your first flight might help, but it's important to remember that nothing will guarantee that your bag makes the connection. If it doesn't, the airline will usually deliver it (at their expense) to wherever you're staying, so as long as you can go a day or two without your bag, you'll be fine.

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    The key is to plan to be without checked bags for a day or two. Keep a change of clothing and anything you need every day and cannot easily replace, such as prescription medications, in your carry-on. – Patricia Shanahan Jul 27 at 16:48
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    You should always plan to survive a few days without your luggage, even when you have normal and long layovers. – Willeke Jul 27 at 17:08
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    I agree with @Willeke - be prepared for separation from your checked luggage regardless of layover time etc. – Patricia Shanahan Jul 27 at 20:36
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    Another route to the same destination is, as I do, to insure against the possibility of delay. My annual policy includes about £100 of cover if luggage is delayed by more than 12 hours. I carry a toothbrush and prescription meds with me, but instead of carting around some of what ought to be in my checked luggage I let the airline carry all my clothes around, and buy temporary replacements if they ever show up late. – MadHatter Jul 28 at 7:43
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    @MadHatter: That may be fine for clothes, but I still do advise having an extra set or two of underwear and socks, and possibly a t-shirt as emergency pajama. – Matthieu M. Jul 29 at 7:54
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I do not think this is a concern: transferring luggage is easy going, especially as your luggage will not have to be screened again since you are a domestic arrival. Moreover DL and KLM have a highly integrated system, and the airport in Atlanta handles more than 100 million passengers a year: barring some unexpected event if you can make it to the flight - terminal transfer and all - then with high probability your luggage will make it too.

Remember also that luggage is often being loaded when passengers have already boarded, often up to the very last moments before departure.

The worse possible option is to ask to recheck your luggage in ATL: you’d have to first wait for your luggage, wait in line to drop it, go through security again while your luggage is re-screened, and the transfer to the international terminal. I doubt this can be done in 55 minutes.

You might worry if your luggage requires special handling because of weight or size.

Of course not checking luggage (if practical) is the best guarantee.

Nota: as far as I can tell, the latest statistics by the US government are for August 2018. The stats for Delta are on page 36: they have just less than 0.2% mishandled bags (i.e.less than 2 mishandled bags in 1000). (see also here). From the title, this only reflects reports filed by passengers.

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    "I do not think this is a concern" I strongly disagree. Every time I hear of luggage being lost by an airline, it is because there was a connection and the luggage either missed the flight, or got put on the wrong flight. – Martin Bonner Jul 29 at 9:49
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    @MartinBonner I'm not sure what you mean. Of course the probability of misconnect luggage is increased with connecting flights, but 50-55 minutes is more than enough. – ZeroTheHero Jul 29 at 18:04
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Frankly, there's not much you CAN do, and I would advise against re-checking your own luggage as this would make your connection tighter.

Personally, I have had some really tight connections at busy hubs (50 min at DUB in Dublin, 1 hr at JFK in New York, and 1.25 hr at LHR in London) and I have never had any issues. Missed connections for luggage are the exceptions, most of the time it works seamlessly. Enjoy your trip and don't worry about it! :)

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    Missed connections are not exceptional, in my experience, when the second flight is a small regional jet. There the problem seems to be capacity rather than time available for transferring the bags. Also, if the incoming flight is delayed so much that the connecting passengers have to rush, the chance of the bags missing the flight rises dramatically. But indeed I have had many short connections where my bags did make it, to my surprise. – phoog Jul 28 at 15:58
12

Short of arranging a longer connection (which may involve the payment of change fees) or shipping your luggage ahead (which, itself, may be result in it becoming delayed or lost), there's not really anything you can do as a passenger to ensure your bags are transferred at your connection. They're supposed to be, and airlines generally do a pretty good job of it these days, but it doesn't always happen.

Which means the best thing you can do is to prepare for the possibility that your bag may not arrive with you. Carry a change of clothes. Pack essentials in your carry-on; never check medication, toiletries, electronics, or valuables. If you're traveling with someone else, cross-pack, with some of your items in their suitcase, for redundancy if only one bag doesn't arrive (though in the case of a tight connection, it's likely either all or none of your bags arrive). If your bags don't make it, sigh, file a report, and move on: you've prepared so it won't be a significant problem.

As Kate Gregory notes in comments, it's not unheard of to have the reverse problem: your bag makes the connection but you do not, especially if your flight is delayed. Preparing in this way means you'll have necessary supplies for your extended layover while you wait for another flight.

Beyond that, consider the worst-case scenario. For many trips, the worst that will happen if your luggage is delayed is you get tired of wearing your backup clothes until your delayed luggage arrives and you go to the nearest H&M or Primark to buy something new (for which reimbursement from the airline or travel insurance may be possible). Irritating, but not a huge problem. For other trips, missing luggage could be a showstopper: weddings without wedding dresses, backpacking trips without backpacks, film productions without cameras. Trips where you immediately head into the middle of nowhere or board a ship pose difficulties in arranging to be reunited with your luggage. If that's the case, plan ahead, allow extra time, and prepare a contingency plan.

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    +1 for considering your circumstances. Packing a wedding dress in carry-on luggage would be ridiculous but no amount of travel insurance would compensate for having your wedding without THE dress you had your heart set on. – Dragonel Jul 29 at 17:04
3

Luggage delays happen, and sometimes (often?) they'll be out of your control. What you can do, however, is to mitigate the consequences.

In addition to the packing recommendations suggested in the other answers, perhaps the way to go is just to get adequate travel insurance so that if your luggage is delayed, you'll be able to re-purchase whatever items you urgently need without bothering about the cost.

2

It is a valid concern.

Landing in Atlanta, checked bags will be unloaded and sorted. Only those with final destination Atlanta will be brought to a baggage carousel. Bags checked for a connecting flight will be taken from plane to plane.

Unloading, sorting and loading with some transporting in between will of course take a little while, but in some cases this is completed before passengers have disembarked.

There is never any guarantee that bags will make a connection, but a longer layover does increase the chances. A 53-minute connection will work under normal circumstances, but your chances would be far better will an additional hour or so, especially if your first flight is slightly delayed. Also consider that a short connection also increases the risk of you missing your connecting flight.

2
  • A 53-min connection at ATL is normal and generally you would expect the bag would make your flight like 90+% of the time, else it should come on next flight (and they have a van service to deliver to your hotel/location).

    • plan your luggage so that documents, valuables, urgent items, chargers, essential toiletries, change of clothing etc. are in carry-on.
    • you can get compensated for buying replacement essentias if it's more than X hours late, see regulations
    • basically don't worry. It shouldn't get lost. You can't (economically) "assure" luggage isn't lost, you can only mitigate the impact.
  • These days, the likelihood that your bag makes the connection depends less on how tight the connection time is, and more on how much $$ fare you paid and what status you have on that carrier, with legacy US carriers these days (AA, Delta, UA). Your only defense (other than paying $$ for premium economy/business) is to pick one carrier/partner/alliance and accrue status on it. Or else fire the legacy carriers and fly Norwegian/Level/WestJet/AirTransat(->about to be acquired)/etc.

    • as illustration, one time I got a cheap flight to Toronto (with Northwest, since acquired by Delta) which required an overnight layover in Chicago, where I had to sleep on a bench in ORD in a closed area for 5 hours. But at least I figured my luggage would make that connection with all of 6hrs. No! What happened was it was transferred and loaded early, then unloaded later to make room for luggage of passengers with higher status)

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