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I'm considering sending some pieces of checked baggage being cardboard boxes rather than suitcases (on an international flight). Is there a real chance my boxes might get wet? Assume heavy rain both at the origin and the destination.

Bonus: Same question, but I've wrapped my boxes with plastic wrap.

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    Yes, but due to the dew. The cargo hold is always cool and if the plane lands in a humid place things might get a bit moist. Usually this happens to hardshell suitcases not sure about cardboard. – Nean Der Thal Aug 28 '15 at 11:34
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    The answer below of "yes" is of course correct. However, you could wrap your carboard boxes in plastic wrap (many airports have facilities to do this), mitigating the problem. – CMaster Aug 28 '15 at 12:07
  • If the luggage is stored in the Unit load device, it is less likely to be wet. Of course your luggage is unlikely to get wet if the arrival airport is sun-shining, check the weather report. – Him Aug 28 '15 at 17:38
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    There is. I have seen by the window of the plane my backpack being unloaded under a heavy rain and being left on the cart in the open for several minutes. – njzk2 Aug 28 '15 at 17:47
  • Checked luggage can get wet, in any case you should definitly check the weather in the origin, destination and layovers where it will be handled. If the weather is dry I dont see any reason to worry. – nsn Aug 29 '15 at 7:16
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They will get wet, twice. Luggage are almost always transported in small chains of relatively flat carts pulled by a motor vehicle. Then, a conveyor belt loads them into the plane as works move each piece from the carts to the belt. As some comments say, the carts sometimes are covered, which I have seen but it was not complete coverage, so water will still reach a number of luggage items.

As you can see this gives them plenty of opportunities to get wet, including while being loaded on the cart, while in the carts and while on the conveyor belt. The process is the same at arrival except in the reverse order.

Very few suitcases are completely waterproof but how much water gets in varies. To ensure things like sensitive equipment stays dry, most people use pelican cases. A cardboard box will certainly allow water infiltration quickly, even more so than other materials, particularly because it is absorbent. Some airports even place luggage on the ground, either while waiting to be moved or for passengers to pick up themselves (I've had to do this several times in small airports).

Plastic wrap is a good idea and the kind that wraps several times over it quite effective. There is no guarantee that it will absolutely stay dry or not be pierced but, even if it does, you will get much less water in than with a cardboard box. The other option which I use more often is to pack the contents in giant ziplock bags. Again, its not 100% effective but works nearly every time.

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    For long haul flights, I've noticed quite a few airlines now load the baggage into trapezoid containers, which are then shuttled out (closed) to the aircraft. It's not always just a pile of bags on a cart (although that does happen too) – CMaster Aug 28 '15 at 13:14
  • Larger aircraft B767 on up, A330 on up load using luggage containers which keep baggage dry. Smaller aircraft use conveyors to load individual bags. Depending on airport many baggage trollies are covered over. – user13044 Aug 28 '15 at 14:35
  • I seem to recall the carts are covered with some kind of waterproof fabric. – einpoklum Aug 28 '15 at 14:53
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    Just to be clear, Pelican is a brand name, like Zero and Plano. Transporting pelicans would be another issue, but I guess they'd not mind getting wet. – Spehro Pefhany Aug 28 '15 at 15:34
  • Never been on those large planes despite having flown hundreds of times. I did notice tarps sometimes but quite rarely and I've picked up my luggage wet or covered in snow quite a few times. – Itai Aug 28 '15 at 16:55
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Absolutely. Just on Monday there I arrived at London Gatwick in heavy rain. Took them 50 mins to offload plane and load bag onto carousel (strangely mine was the first on the carousel). Bag was soaked through, top compartment (containing best suit I was due to wear to job interview), was soaked through (was in suit carrier, inside bag zipped compartment).

As well as rain, from what I've seen at Gatwick, cardboard boxes wouldn't survive the loading/off loading, even if it's dry.

  • Why would you think (thick) cardboard boxes wouldn't survive loading and unloading? – einpoklum Aug 28 '15 at 12:35
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    Well, I've been sat at a gate watching the particular hatred those baggage handlers dish out to bags at they travel, including throwing them onto tarmac from height, bouncing them, and the weather related story above. I also provided consultancy to an airline who used LGW, and the system they requested had to be junked when the "task done" signal sent by baggage handlers by pushing a button on their radios stopped due to the radios all mysteriously having the buttons broken off them. So if they will do that to their own kit, how long do you think the tapped seam on your box will last? – The Wandering Dev Manager Aug 28 '15 at 12:48
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Last month we boarded the plane at YYZ, and while they were loading the last bags, the ramp was closed because of a thunderstorm. One bag, just outside my window, stood in the conveyor belt under one full hour of torrential rain.

  • I'm not sure as to how this answers the question. – JoErNanO Aug 29 '15 at 9:07
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    It provides concrete evidence that baggage can get wet. – Martin Argerami Aug 29 '15 at 10:58
  • I imagine the bag's owner did not have frequent-flier status. Airlines treat your bags way better if. – smci Mar 2 '17 at 10:20
  • @smci: if it serves as a data point, the same month I wrote that answer I had a new bag (flying as star-gold) appear on the carrousel wrapped in plastic because it was so damaged that the contents were spilling. – Martin Argerami Mar 2 '17 at 11:51
  • @MartinArgerami: which damn airline is that?! – smci Mar 2 '17 at 12:15

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