Assume you are taking an airline flight, and the cabin starts filling up with smoke. The pilots divert the plane to the nearest suitable airport, and the flight attendants pop the doors and send you down the slides as soon as the airplane comes to a stop and the engines shut down. However, by the time firefighters can check the interior of the aircraft out, no smoke, fumes, or heat sources can be found.

How would the airline get your carryon/hand luggage back to you under the circumstances, and when should you expect it back? I presume that this varies from airline to airline, but representative answers are appreciated.

  • 3
    There's a reason why many frequent travellers suggest keeping your phone, wallet and passport on you, and not putting them in overhead lockers.... Not very quickly is sadly your answer!
    – Gagravarr
    Sep 8, 2015 at 21:10
  • @Gagravarr -- I wholeheartedly agree with this; the same holds true for critical medications, as well, if at all possible. However, I'd expect a mature airline to have some sort of policy for this situation... Sep 8, 2015 at 21:12
  • 1
    For example: Flight 1549 passengers get baggage back after Hudson splash down "In a large, complex effort, US Airways (LCC) has with the help of a Texas-based company spent four months recovering, sorting, cleaning and restoring 36,000 passenger belongings pulled from the plane." Sep 8, 2015 at 21:14
  • 2
    @GregHewgill -- impressive and worthy of a hat-tip to US Airways and their contractor, but that's a far more complex, and far more rare, case than what I'm dealing with here. Sep 8, 2015 at 21:19
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    @JonathanReez -- the plane will have techs crawling all over it at that point, trying to figure out what went wrong... Sep 8, 2015 at 22:03

1 Answer 1


While it varies from airline to airline, the likely scenario would be that airline employees or an airport contractor would send staff onboard to retrieve the items in the overhead bins and seatback pockets once they have been given the OK to enter. They would tag everything they find based on bin number or seat number, so as to have an idea of who is belongs to. Then take it somewhere for distribution to the awaiting passengers.

How long the passengers have to wait depends on the issue that caused the evacuation and how it takes to determine it is safe to unload the baggage.

  • "likely scenario"? Is this just pure speculation?
    – Calchas
    Mar 11, 2016 at 21:48
  • @Calchas - If you have knowledge of something that contradicts my statement, post it as an answer.
    – user13044
    Mar 12, 2016 at 1:22

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