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Given a flight path with one or several layovers, how do I know at which layover(s) I have to retrieve my checked luggage?

I know that I can ask the check-in front desk that gives me the boarding passes but they might give some incorrect information, in which case I am still the one responsible for my luggage.

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    If the agent is unable to read the airport code off the luggage tag they printed when you gave them the bag, you've got a pretty bad agent. – Michael Hampton Dec 4 '19 at 17:39
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    @MichaelHampton I don't quite remember, but I believe that in the case of a transit in the US, the luggage tag actually has the final destination, even though you need to retrieve your bags at the first port of entry, isn't that the case? – jcaron Dec 4 '19 at 17:41
  • @jcaron Yes, that's essentially how it works in the US. But that's customs, rather than the airlines. – Michael Hampton Dec 4 '19 at 18:31
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There are two cases:

  1. Your layover isn't a layover, but rather a separate ticket. Or, for some other reason, your luggage is "short checked" to an intermediate destination. In this case, it is your responsibility to get the bags. The check-in agent will tell you. Your best protection against incorrect information is to read the destination on the tag applied to your checked baggage and on the receipt that you are given to carry with you.

  2. Your layover is in a country where all arriving international passengers must claim their luggage for the purpose of customs inspection. In this case, the bag is tagged for your final destination, but you must pick it up, clear customs, and re-check it at the layover airport. This will be announced by the cabin crew shortly before landing. Furthermore, airports in these countries are designed so that all arriving international passengers must pass through the baggage claim area before getting to their next flight.

If you do manage to get to your next flight without your bag, the airline will forward it to you just as if it had been lost or misdirected for another reason.

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    This covers the most frequent cases, but I'm not sure this does really cover all cases. Aren't there situations in the EU where the final airport does not have customs and thus customs need to be cleared at the first port of entry, for instance? – jcaron Dec 4 '19 at 17:43
  • @jcaron perhaps. I am not aware of such airports, much less of customs procedures for flying to them. Anyone who is can edit this answer, point me to information allowing me to edit this answer, or post another answer. But if the procedure is to short check the bag to the last airport that does have customs facilities, then such cases are covered by the first point in this answer. – phoog Dec 4 '19 at 17:46
  • Thanks! "Your layover isn't a layover, but rather a separate ticket." -> How does one know whether it is a layover or a separate ticket? Is it a separate ticket iff one is given 2 boarding passes? – Franck Dernoncourt Dec 4 '19 at 17:47
  • @FranckDernoncourt Technically, yes. Two boarding passes for two different flights but in one itinerary by the same airlines. Its always important to check your final destination on your luggage tag which they give you. – ShellZero Dec 4 '19 at 18:35
  • @FranckDernoncourt case 1 may or may not actually be separate tickets. And it's possible for bags to be checked through even if there are separate tickets. As far as the traveler is concerned, the key datum is the final destination on the luggage tag: if that destination is a layover airport, then the first point applies. – phoog Dec 4 '19 at 19:53
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Of course, we'll consider that the itinerary is on a single ticket/booking, otherwise of course you have to retrieve your bags when switching from one booking to the next. Luggage tag will show the layover point in that case.

The same applies if you actually have a stopover and not a layover, of course. Luggage tag will show the stopover point.

The same applies if you change airports. Have no idea what the luggage tag shows.

If you arrive in the US from an international origin, you have to retrieve your bags to clear customs, whatever the final destination. The luggage tag still shows the final destination and not where you retrieve your bags.

The same rule may apply to other countries as well at least in the international-to-domestic scenario, but it's not universal (you don't retrieve your bags when arriving in the EU from a non-EU origin and you transfer to an EU airport with customs facilities or to a non-EU flight).

I believe if you arrive in the EU from a non-EU origin and you transfer to an EU airport without customs facilities you have to retrieve your bags to clear customs, though I never experienced this so I can't confirm it. No idea what the luggage tag shows.

Not so easy to find a generic rule...

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  • For a change of airport, the luggage tag will show the arrival airport, because that's where the bag has to be given to the passenger. At the next airport, the passenger checks the bag in anew and receives a new tag. – phoog Dec 4 '19 at 19:55

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