My partner and I are due to take an international flight together.

For reasons beyond our control, my partner may not be able to make the flight. I've read other questions about this scenario and it seems straightforward. Loss of ticket for not checking in, simple.

There is an outside chance that my partner's ability to make the flight may be decided at the last-minute. Obviously, I should make a decision as to whether I want to go without them before I check my luggage in. But I'm curious, what happens if I check the luggage in and then miss the flight?

This, to me, seems like a classic terrorist opportunity, so there must be a sensible outcome in this scenario. Although, my luggage would not have anything that would flag it as dangerous, obviously. I imagine my particular scenario may not be uncommon, e.g. passenger arrives at the airport sick, checks in, and then doesn't make it to the terminal (stuck in the toilet, etc.)

I've read about Positive Passenger Bag Matching, but they wouldn't know until the boarding closes, which seems quite late and incredibly inconvenient if they decided to remove the bag.

What happens to the luggage?

What would happen to me? Would they give me a fine or arrest me or something?

Obviously international flights make you go through passport control. Is this scenario any different for a domestic flight?

  • LOL, you can see this almost daily at Sheremetyevo I. – Gayot Fow Feb 6 '17 at 3:41
  • 1
    One important note is that the United States does not typically enforce positive bag matching on domestic flights (checked bags are screened for dangerous items before they are loaded). If you are flying on a US domestic flight and connecting to an international one, you might find that your bag went ahead without you, at least for the first leg. – Zach Lipton Feb 6 '17 at 5:59
  • 3
    Flying on United, I didn't get to the boarding gate on time due to long queues and delays at security. But my checked baggage did fly on that flight, they didn't bother to remove it. I asked the airline about this, because it surprised me that the bag was not removed, and they said it's fine for a bag to fly without the passenger so long as it is has been screened by security. – wim Feb 6 '17 at 16:24

PPBM, or "Positive Passenger Bag Matching" in an international airline regulation that was introduced after the Pan Am 103 bombing, and basically requires that a passenger may not cause their checked baggage to fly on an aircraft they are not on, on the grounds that they would not blow up a plane if they knew they were on board and thus would be killed as well.

PPBM does NOT require that baggage must fly on the same aircraft as the passenger, just that the passenger may not be the one to cause that to happen. So for example, if your bag is accidentally not loaded onto a flight by the airline, it may travel on a later flight as the decision to do so would not have been made by the passenger.

However if a passenger fails to board a flight that they have checked luggage on, PPBM regulations require that either the passenger is found and boards the flight, or their luggage is removed. This removal of luggage can be a long process depending on where it is loaded on the aircraft, and may potentially require unloading other luggage or cargo in order to find the bag(s). As a result, it's almost guaranteed that having to do this will cause the flight to be delayed, and in doing so inconvenience all of the other passengers, and potentially cost the airline money.

PPBM is required for all international flights. Domestic rules will depend on the country involved, but for example the US does NOT enforce PPBM on domestic flights due to the fact that ALL passenger bags are checked for explosives using X-rays and other techniques. The rules in other countries will vary.

So to answer your specific questions - what happens to the luggage? It will be unloaded and retained by the airline. You would need to work with the airline to reclaim it or make other plans (such as being booked onto a later flight, in which case the luggage would be moved to that flight). If your travel included domestic flights (either only domestic, or domestic before your international flight) then your bag would potentially travel to the (domestic) destination - at which point it would be up to the airline to decide what to do but likely would involve you having to pay to transport it back to you.

What happens to you? In a general sense, nothing. If missing the flight was deliberate you will almost certainly lose the value of your ticket. If it was accidental the airline may assist in moving you to a later flight, although in many cases they have no obligation to do so. Nothing here is "illegal" as such, and I would not expect any legal implications in general, however that could vary significantly depending on the country involved and the exact reason for you not taking the flight.

What would happen to the other passengers on the plane? You didn't ask this one, but the answer is that they will almost certainly be delayed as a result of your actions. Depending on the length of the delay, this could cause them to miss connecting flights or other appointments.

In short, don't do this. If it happens accidentally (eg, you fall asleep in the airport and miss you flight) then so be it - but doing anything like this deliberately would be a poor move on your behalf.

Note that if you are travelling with someone else (presuming you are both on the same booking) and one of you boards, then there are a few added complications. Firstly, once they realize that your companion has boarded but you have not, they will question that person as to where you are. It is unlikely that they will remove that person from the flight, but it's possible.

Presuming you check-in together (or possibly even if you don't) it's possible that the baggage will end up being checked under the other passengers name, or their baggage being checked under your name. Thus it's possible that their bags will be removed, but that yours will fly (or some other random combination).

If the situation ever did occur where you needed to remove yourself from the flight after check-in, the only right option is to go to the airline IMMEDIATELY and let them know. This will give them additional time to find your bag (preferably before it's even placed on the aircraft), will likely avoid delaying the flight, and will make everyones life - including yours - much easier.

  • 4
    Indeed. It's never nice being told over the PA system that the flight will be delayed 30 minutes due to a missing passenger, then delayed another 30 minutes to locate and remove their luggage. – Lightness Races in Orbit Feb 6 '17 at 14:44
  • Every time I have had special oversized luggage checked in at the very last minute, it arrived at a later flight than I did. – gerrit Feb 6 '17 at 14:47
  • Regarding the names on the luggage tags, it's possible to tell the check-in agent which bags to put which names on. I'd recommend doing that if there's a chance that one of you might not go. – reirab Feb 6 '17 at 16:02
  • From experience, I know at least one airport where any transition of less than 45m/1h will cause your checked-in luggage to travel on the next flight... so simply by selecting a short correspondence a passenger could cause its bag to travel on a different plane. I am not sure this PPBM is bomb-proof :/ (It also ignores people willing to sacrifice themselves, of course) – Matthieu M. Feb 6 '17 at 16:28

In domestic flights - luggage matching is a bit relaxed.

This means that if your journey had any domestic component - there is a possibility that your luggage went ahead even though you didn't board the plane.

On international flights, however, if the passenger is not on board, their luggage is offloaded without question. This often leads to delays at the gate and is a common occurrence, especially on flights from hub airports where people tend to get lost / delayed in transit.

So, chances are your luggage may reach a transit point - and then no further.

There are no repercussions for you, apart from the fact that you may lose any value of the ticket remaining and of course - be without your luggage for a while until the airline figures out how to get it to you.

There are no passport controls on domestic flights, and in some countries (like the US) there are no exit controls on international flights either (beyond the normal security checks).

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.