At many airports you can wrap your luggage with sheets of sticky plastic. Why on earth would you do that? I only see disadvantages. I can imagine the mess when customs ask you to open your luggage. So what benefits am I missing?

Wrapping luggage in plastic at JFK airport, USA

Photo by Reuben Strayer, license: CC BY-SA 2.0

  • here is one: flickr.com/photos/jeppestown/3027622187
    – froderik
    Commented Nov 3, 2011 at 7:41
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    Just reading this question is making my skin crawl.
    – dpatchery
    Commented Nov 3, 2011 at 14:05
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    bing.com/images/… has several good hits Commented Nov 3, 2011 at 16:16
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    I had to do it once when my suitcase zipper broke about 10 minutes before leaving for the airport. It was worth every penny! Commented May 30, 2012 at 13:08
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    During a local flight, the airline would refuse to check in a wheelchair unless it was wrapped and protected; so it has its use. Commented Jun 4, 2014 at 15:22

19 Answers 19


It's quite simple:

  • You can spot more easily whether someone has opened it
  • It can not open by accident
  • The luggage doesn't get dirty
  • You don't want your expensive luggage to be scratched!
  • It looks really sexy
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    Why would you ever not wrap your luggage in plastic??
    – fredley
    Commented Nov 2, 2011 at 22:24
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    @fredley because you have to pay for it?
    – yms
    Commented Nov 3, 2011 at 3:11
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    "It looks really sexy". Yeah, if plastic-wrapped stuff is your fetish -- by all means, go ahead and knock yourself out. Commented Nov 3, 2011 at 12:43
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    Regarding protection against scratches and scuffs, etc - The purpose of luggage is to protect the contents. I understand people liking their luggage, but isn't protecting the protection device a little much? Commented Feb 14, 2012 at 22:57
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    @neilfein: Not at all! See, you need to have a luggage in a luggage in your luggage (which is then wrapped) for the optimal level of protection ;) Commented Mar 4, 2012 at 22:53

I remember seeing this at an airport once before. They didn't have this at my local international airport so I thought it was some crazy thing for paranoid fliers. But in hindsight it has a purpose.

The companies that provide these services claim a lot, but it is definitely going to provide the protection from the following things:

  • Tampering (or at least make it clearly evident)
  • Unauthorized items
  • Theft
  • Accidental openings
  • Stains
  • Weather (rain, snow, etc)

The companies go on to suggest that you can also prevent scratches, wear and tear, and other such things. I find it hard to believe a thin layer of plastic could do that, but it probably does provide some degree of protection from those too.

The most convincing however, is the protection from Weather. The tarmac where the plane is loaded isn't protected from these things. If I have fabric luggage, I can use these wrapping services to prevent rain, mud, or frozen winter gunk from getting into or on my luggage. Possibly damaging it permanently.

An interesting note. When they wrap the luggage, they often times cut out the wheels, if a pull/push/rolling set, and also some of the handles, so even though it is wrapped up you can still use it like you had.

Also the device they use, for anyone who hasn't seen this, is an interesting combination of a kiosk and warehouse skid wrapping machine.

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    Actually this kind of plastic can be pretty thick and tough and they often wrap it round and round and round. So it should prevent scratches but not dents. Commented Nov 3, 2011 at 14:43
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    you forgot dogs saliva, almost all airports have dogs that sniff luggage behind the scene. Trust me they have a lot of saliva.... personally I hate that. Commented May 8, 2012 at 7:35

It prevents anyone in the airport from stealing anything from your bag. Not a problem in many European/USA airports, but when travelling through, say, Africa, you have to be careful.

I remember a friend of mine, after transferring through Johannesburg, picking up her laptop case from the luggage carousel and remarking that it felt very light.

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    Very good point! Commented Nov 3, 2011 at 11:47
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    if you ship your laptop in checked luggage you're asking for it to be stolen. And most likely it was stolen at her original port of departure, not in Jo'Burg.
    – jwenting
    Commented Dec 14, 2011 at 7:36
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    In USA, doesn't TSA have right to open any bag anyway? And then steal all they want?
    – vartec
    Commented Feb 8, 2013 at 9:55
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    I meant they are legally allowed to check any bag (in theory for security threats, in practice for valuables). And they have legal right to open it without your supervision. Stealing part obviously isn't legal.
    – vartec
    Commented Feb 9, 2013 at 19:58
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    @jwenting: It may not help against stealing very valuable things that someone very fraudulent specifically searches for, but it does help against small "opportunity thefts", e.g. when someone on meagre pay has a minute of access to a piece of luggage and decides to check "just for fun" what's the first item right behind the zipper. Along the same lines as other basic measures of protection, such as placing zippers in a not immediately obvious location, such as under the luggage strap. Commented Jun 29, 2014 at 8:54

Plastic wrap, or some sort of net, is also a common technique for people traveling with backpacking packs. The number of protruding straps, handles, etc. are irresistible bait for baggage handlers or machines to grab your bag by the wrong strap and rip it apart. Bundling it until it reaches your destination prevents backpack disabling misadventure.

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    Yes I think JAL used to put my backpack in a big plastic bag closed with plastic ties, but not shrinkwrapped - they just did it right on the luggage conveyor platform at the checkin desk. Commented Nov 7, 2011 at 8:27
  • yes, for backpacks it could be useful. But I'd rather not travel with luggage that is that easily damaged by careless handling or mishap. And of course for backpacks there are specially designed covers you can buy, which are sturdy and reusable.
    – jwenting
    Commented Dec 14, 2011 at 7:38
  • I was forced to do so when checking-in my backpack several times. Reason was: straps and handles could cause problems in baggage handlers.
    – user937284
    Commented Sep 24, 2015 at 18:53

Shrinkwrapping your luggage also protects anything protruding or attached such as handles, straps, fittings, padlocks, wheels, etc.

Apparntly it's also used to keep things of odd shapes and sizes together as in this photo from Bangkok airport:

airport shrinkwrap luggage

(Thanks to WikiMedia Commons for the photo)

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    Yes, to hold rucksack straps in place - that's where I usually see it. Commented Nov 3, 2011 at 13:20
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    I work in tourism and have seen many many "rolly suitcases" with their handles and/or wheels broken off too. I also lost a strap from a shoulder bag once years ago in my naivety. Commented Nov 3, 2011 at 13:22
  • That's a really good idea to wrap small items that way.
    – crenate
    Commented May 30, 2012 at 13:09
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    That explanation doesn't quite work out; I have seen the employees at those plastic wrapping station cut holes into the wrapping specifically to allow wheels and handles to stick out. For otherwise, the suitcases would be very cumbersome to transport through the airport. Commented Jun 29, 2014 at 8:56

I agree with most of the answers, but don't think that if your luggage is wrapped in plastic it can't be "opened by accident".

I have a friend who traveled from the US to Venezuela with his luggage wrapped in plastic, and some things "dissapeared" from his luggage, aparently someone opened it got some stuff and wrapped it again in plastic so my friend didn't notice at the airport.

I don't mean to scare you with this, what I mean is that if wrapping lugagge in plastic doesn't give you that much security.

Besides, if the security guards at the airport ask you to open your luggage for a security check you'll lose more time and money.

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    At least at the Mumbai airport, the people who do shrink wrapping have a policy of re-wrapping it for free if the customs makes you open it. Commented Jan 12, 2012 at 17:14

I assume people do that because they are afraid someone could easily hide some illegal substances in unattended, non-wrapped baggage and try to steal it back on the other side, after the victim passed the luggage inspection.

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    It's used widely in South Africa to try to minimize pilfering by baggage handlers, security, etc.
    – mkennedy
    Commented Nov 3, 2011 at 8:49
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    Assumptions, in my opinion, do not make the type of great, canonical answer that SE sites strive for. (I agree with the general principle behind your answer - preventing unauthorized/unwanted tampering with luggage - but don't like that it's an assumption, and it doesn't cover the multitude of reasons for this behavior.)
    – Laura
    Commented Nov 3, 2011 at 19:27
  • iHaveacomputer, you need to cite something to back that up. It sounds like nonsense. In any case it doesn't make any sense: countries where airline employees blackmail customers do this by planting it in hand luggage. So wrapping prevents nothing. Even in cases where baggage handlers are known to traffic contraband via unwitting passengers, they are going to retrieve it, not blackmail the passenger and mess up their operation.
    – smci
    Commented Mar 23, 2017 at 15:05
  • Has anyone, other than maybe Schapelle Corby, ever alleged otherwise?
    – smci
    Commented Mar 23, 2017 at 15:07

Some airlines now enforce plastic wrapping your luggage themselves. I flew out of Johannesburg with Emirates and they took it upon themselves to plastic wrap my luggage. I assumed it was for 2 reasons:

  1. to help prevent theft from luggage because OR Tambo International is known for pilfering
  2. to make the luggage as compact as possible.

I have also used the wrapping service to tie together two pieces of luggage so that they would count as one. I had two soft duffel bags to check-in but my fare allowed me to check-in only one item. Since their cumulative weight was inferior or equal to the allowed weight I wrapped them together and thus checked-in only one piece of luggage in the eyes of airline staff.


No you don't lose or waste anything when asked to open your luggage. All the customs I went through that asked me to open my luggage had very heavy-duty sticky tape with which they put it back again. No problem!

I am from South Africa. The wrapping is not expensive and I do it for two reasons. Protection and protection.


Here in Colombia, drug dealers often put cocaine in people's luggage when is handled by baggage handlers. When they arrive to destination in Europe or USA, the local baggage handlers remove the cocaine. However sometimes the police discover the drug, so the innocent luggage owner goes to jail for drug dealing.

So wrapping your luggage in plastic may prevent it. Also if your luggage arrives without plastic, but with cocaine inside. you might try to persuade the police that you are indeed innocent.

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    Advice for Australian travelers going into countries where convictions of drug smuggling is a death sentence, as the stories about Schapelle Corby indicates, should be enough of a deterrent for people not doing this. Commented Jul 29, 2014 at 0:39


  • For safety reasons, to protect your bag from scratches and liquid that could come out of other bags.
  • For safety reasons again, if you travel in not-so-safe destinations, airport staff might open your luggage before delivery and steal stuff.
  • For safety reasons, so that people can't put drugs in.
  • For safety reasons, backpack straps could get stuck in the luggage management system.

I live in Venezuela. It prevents anyone in the airport from stealing anything from your bag, but in airports like there are in Venezuela, it's not a warranty that method works, because workers inside the airport have this kind of machine too. And security personnel, it means National Guard are corrupts and know this situation but are paid by these kind of workers.

Besides, if the National Guard ask you to open your luggage for a security check, you'll lose your money.

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    If this is a common practice on your route, use a big marker and write your name across the plastic on both sides and "fragile" and take a picture of your luggage at the check in counter. Putting new plastic wrapping is easy, but if there is marking on it, the tampering is obvious. Would be smugglers will go for a baggage that requires less work on their part.
    – Sylver
    Commented Mar 3, 2015 at 8:54

On my recent trip to Oman, I saw such a shrink-wrapping service for the first time, presumably because it is not placed nearly as prominently on European airports (I fly mostly from AMS, DUS, CGN, and I have to yet find it there).

During the thirty minutes that I watched the process at Mascat Airport (MCT), it was not once used to wrap suitcases. Instead, mostly Indian/Pakistani/Bangladeshi expatriate workers queued, with cardboard boxes, plastic shopping bags and other "unusual" kinds of luggage that urgently required wrapping to not disintegrate on the luggage belt or the apron.

And I guess paying 100bz (20cent) for wrapping per trip will indeed save them much money compared to a OMR 40 ($80) suitcase that they have to store somewhere between the trips.


Australian baggage handlers and customs officers are currently (December 2012) being charged with smuggling drugs and guns into Australia through other people's luggage. They slip items in and they come out, as organized at the other end of the journey, and the owner of the luggage has no idea it has happened - until they get told their luggage has come out on a swab as being tainted with a drug that they've hardly even heard of.

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    Welcome to Travel.SE! Any chance of some clarification? Presumably not all of them are being charged. A link or two would be useful :)
    – Mark Mayo
    Commented Dec 22, 2012 at 3:43

If you arrive at the airport to find your luggage slightly broken, the luggage wrapping service will be a good solution. It is a better solution that buying a new suitcase in the airport.

Reference: How to dispose of a broken suitcase at an airport?


A lot of people answered, but here is another reason. Its to make sure your item isn't damaged or opened while loading/unloading.

Some airlines will refuse to check your luggage if its not wrapped correctly.

During a recent trip, I was told to wrap a wheelchair in this plastic cocoon before the agent would accept it.


Looks like there might be a new reason for doing this.

Some international flights are now restricting your checked luggage to one, not two bags, and might cause a fuss when you turn up.

As Lifehacker points out:

Airlines are cutting corners wherever possible these days, and one of those ways is lowering the amount of allowable check-in bags. Whereas it used to be quite normal to just expect two check-ins as a given on an international flight, that’s not guaranteed anymore. That cheap flight you booked, saving yourself a few hundred, might only allow one check-in. Extra bags after booking the ticket might be around $150, or as much as $250 if you do it at the check-in counter.

That’s where the plastic wrapping comes in. If your bags are small enough, take them over to the wrapping station, and for about $15, it’ll turn two bags into one. You’re not breaking any rules by doing it, and sometimes the check-in attendants will even recommend it. If one of your bags has an extendable handle and wheels, they can even wrap it so you can wheel around both bags on the one set of wheels. Bonus!


It could also be for space saving. Put your clothes in it, stick in a vacuum cleaner, and seal the opening to the vacuum with your hand. Turn it on, and watch your clothes compress to a much smaller size! (Make sure to knot the end of the bag when you pull the vacuum out)

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    I think they mean the entire bag, rather than things inside the case/pack.
    – Mark Mayo
    Commented Nov 3, 2011 at 3:49

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