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I was flying KLM from the UK to the USA with a short layover in Amsterdam.

Because of delays in the UK, I almost missed my flight. The flight attendant told me my bag wasn't going to make it, but if I walk fast, my gate is just two over.

When I got to the gate, they had already closed the doors, but the counter was opened - I mentioned that my bag was not going to make it, but that's okay. She said, "hold on," got onto her walkie-talkie, and said,

"Yep, that's what I thought: you can't fly if your bag's not going."

I originally thought that it might be a security concern, but that doesn't really make any sense.

Why can't I travel if my luggage doesn't make the connection?

EDIT: I should clarify that I have no beef with KLM - they treated my overnight in Amsterdam professionally and helpfully; I'm just curious what the reason would be.

  • 3
    US and European policies are very different. US doesn't seem to care If you and your bags fly on different planes. Europe does. – DJClayworth Jan 28 '16 at 3:13
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    @Mikey: If a passenger doesn’t show up, their luggage will be unloaded. – chirlu Jan 28 '16 at 14:10
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    @HarryVervet Same with me - I ran to make a connection in Kyiv Boryspil, flying to London. I made it, but the bags didn't. They arrived the next day, but someone (presumably security-related?) has gone through everything in them, as thing inside were clearly packed differently from how I packed them. Oh well, I don't have a problem with somebody going through my dirty clothes :) – Aleks G Jan 28 '16 at 14:47
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    Associated (but not duplicate) question: travel.stackexchange.com/questions/60826/… – Willeke Jan 28 '16 at 17:35
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    Something is a bit off. If the door was closed, you weren't getting on regardless of the status of you baggage. – Johns-305 Apr 16 '17 at 21:35
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In general, your luggage and you need to be on the same plane because if it contains a bomb then they want you to perish. In this case, it might be you've been pulling tricks with purchasing a ticket for a notoriously delayed flight in hopes you get separated from your bag-bomb. If it's not your fault then that's apparently fine because lost / delayed / misrouted baggage happens all the time. But then you don't know so apparently that's fine. Obviously whoever created this policy never heard of suicide bombers and airport screening.

Edit: this is outlined in the IATA Recommended Procedure 1739 Passenger/Baggage Reconciliation Procedures. In US Code - Section 44901: Screening passengers and property the following is mentioned:

A bag-match program that ensures that no checked baggage is placed aboard an aircraft unless the passenger who checked the baggage is aboard the aircraft.

but this was only for "any piece of checked baggage that is not screened by an explosive detection system". I am speculating this might have stayed in place even when such a system was deployed.

  • 1
    Could you provide a source for this policy? (Considering @HarryVervet is disputing the claim) – Insane Jan 28 '16 at 4:09
  • I'm not disagreeing but doesn't this invalidate the entire security process that is supposed to ensure your bag doesn't contain a bomb. Also, there are countless examples of people with bombs who are willing to kill themselves....so I'm not sure how effective this would be in practice. – Rob P. Jan 28 '16 at 4:26
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    The 1985 Air India luggage bomb was probably what prompted the rule. The terrorists arranged for their luggage to be transferred to a connecting flight, but they didn't board the plane themselves. The x-ray machine that would normally check the luggage was broken that day. In any case, saying that a policy is unnecessary because it prevents only some bombings and not 100% of them is not a very convincing argument. – Moyli Jan 28 '16 at 9:08
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    @Moyli Also could be the Lockerbie bombing. This happened more than once, which is why in Europe they are very strict about enforcing the rule now. In the US they do not worry about it. – Calchas Jan 28 '16 at 10:10
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    This answer is incorrect: it covers the opposite situation, namely the bag being loaded onto the plane and the passenger skipping the flight. The situation here is that the passenger made the flight (except they didn't, since the gate had closed) but the bag would have been placed on a later flight. This is a very common occurrence and airlines do it every day. At this point, I believe the delayed bag is treated as cargo rather than a checked bag, and presumably it gets extra security screening. But it just gets sent on a later flight. – David Richerby Apr 16 '17 at 11:07
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This is probably the policy because of the problems delayed luggage causes at the other end, specifically with clearing US Customs. While airports/airlines usually have a protocol to clear luggage in the absence of the passenger, it is more hassle and paperwork than having the passenger take the luggage through customs themselves.

The KLM Conditions of Carriage seem to support this (my emphasis):

10.2 Checked Baggage
10.2.1 General Provisions
(d) Carrier will try, as much as reasonable possible, to arrange that Checked Baggage is carried on the same aircraft as the Passenger. Amongst others, for operating or security/safety reasons, the Checked Baggage may be carried on another flight. In this case, the Carrier will deliver the Baggage to the Passenger, unless the applicable regulations require the Passenger to be present for a customs inspection.

It is very unlikely this is the policy primarily for security purposes. On domestic flights in the US, I have on occasion had my luggage flown on an earlier flight than myself. For example, recently when I flew into Newark from the UK, I had a five or so hour layover in Newark before my connecting flight, but my luggage was put on an earlier flight to my final destination.

  • 1
    @user568458 No, this is not true. Your customs declaration is deemed to apply to your bags that should be with you. Your baggage may be searched in your absence, but usually it will be released by customs quite quickly and delivered to your address inside the USA. – Calchas Jan 28 '16 at 10:11
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    It really is for security purposes, but the USA for once is not worried about it and doesn't apply the rule. However, in Europe, after a series of baggage bombs were used to down airliners, the system is designed to prevent you from predicting when your bag will be on a flight and you won't. – Calchas Jan 28 '16 at 10:15
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    @Calchas My understanding of the European rule is that the passenger can't cause their luggage to be on a different flight from themselves (i.e. by checking in luggage, but not boarding their flight.) If the airline or other operational concerns cause it, then it's allowed, since it's clear that the passenger wasn't trying to cause their bags to be on a different flight in a case like the OP's where the bags just didn't make a delayed connection. Especially in light of the quote from KLM's CoC, I'd guess that the customs issues mentioned here are the correct answer. – reirab Jan 28 '16 at 16:12
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    @HarryVervet It's not really "lax", it's just that the US has a high degree of confidence in their baggage screening process. – Calchas Jan 28 '16 at 16:54
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    This answer is incorrect. The "unless" clause you highlight only applies to the statement "the Carrier will deliver the Baggage to the Passenger". The meaning of the whole sentence is that, if the passenger does not have to be present for the customs check, then the airline will deliver the baggage to their home or hotel. However, if the passenger does need to be present for the customs check, then the passenger must come to the airport to be present for that check. – David Richerby Apr 16 '17 at 11:10
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I suspect that KLM were actually fobbing you off. The reason you couldn't get on your flight was because the gate had already closed and they weren't willing to reopen it for you.

If a passenger's bags are already on a plane but the passenger does not board, then the bags must be removed from the flight. This is to prevent people putting bombs in baggage and then not catching the flight as happened, for example, with Pan Am flight 103. (Presumably, it is harder to recruit suicide bombers.)

However, your situation is the opposite: you would have been on the flight without your bags. This happens all the time, which is why the flight attendant mentioned it to you. Typically, a person can get between two gates at an airport faster than a bag, which must go through the central baggage handling facilities. In this situation, it is completely routine for the bag to be sent as cargo on a later flight. One assumes they put the bag through more intense screening, to prevent people putting bombs on planes by choosing a very short connection in the hope that they make the connection and their bomb blows up some other flight to the same place.

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    I think this makes sense: The gate staff made a very brief (maybe too brief) statement, the full intended version of which would be something like "[now that the gate is already closed,] you can't fly if your bag's not going". Gate open + bag not on board => you are let in, bag is shipped as cargo later on. Gate closed + bag on board => maybe reopening the gate would have been more convenient for them than unloading. Gate closed + bag not on board => "you can't fly". – O. R. Mapper Apr 17 '17 at 15:21
  • Also if your bag gets lost you fly without your bag. The bag is then sent on another flight. Somehow that's not a concern, so why should it be in this case ? – xyious Nov 29 '18 at 20:20

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