After you land from a flight, you pick-up your luggage and then you pass through these sliding doors to the "public" area.

I noticed that those sliding doors are not designed for security, as they're open most of the time, with lots of people coming out. However, nobody goes in.

Is it forbidden to go (back) through those gates? Why / Why not? What charges could I face if I just enter either with or without a boarding pass (that I've just landed)?

  • 2
    It depends greatly, well, entirely, on weather it's an International or Domestic arrival.
    – Johns-305
    Apr 11, 2017 at 16:04
  • "However, nobody goes in." - in Spain, I have seen plenty of people walk in. The gates won't open because there are no sensors on the outside, but people would just wait in front until someone would come out. Apr 11, 2017 at 21:31
  • 5
    Nobody goes in? I've gone in more than once, meeting my wife at baggage claim. Apr 12, 2017 at 2:15
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    @JasonC I think the question is "can you go from the street into the bag claim area" not "can you go from the bag claim back into the terminal".
    – Calchas
    Apr 12, 2017 at 13:56
  • 1
    @JasonC What you say is true for domestic flights in, e.g., Brazil, Argentina, Australia or the US, but it isn't true for international arrivals into these countries and it isn't true even for domestic arrivals in some places like in Europe and some airports in China. So that's why we have quite a bit of arguing in the answers about which style is most representative. :-)
    – Calchas
    Apr 12, 2017 at 14:07

7 Answers 7


The area where you can pick up your checked luggage is not in any way considered 'secure' and it will not be a security threat if non-passengers would have access. In fact at many (especially smaller) airports, the luggage pickup area is not even separated from the publicly accessible arrival area.

This should be quite obvious, since you have access to your checked luggage, which may contain items which are not allowed in cabin luggage. If you for some reason end up in contact with your checked luggage when e.g. transiting from one flight to another, you will always have to go through a security check and hand luggage screening before you are allowed back into the secure area of the airport.

If I had to guess why the luggage pickup area in most airports is closed to public access, it is most likely a practical issue. The area around the conveyor belts is usually crowded enough if just the passengers are waiting for their luggage and would be even more crowded if all the people waiting for arriving passengers had access as well. Preventing public access is also very likely to reduce luggage theft.

  • 31
    It's probably worth explaining that this varies. The baggage claim area is restricted in some situations, such as for international arrivals where passengers have not yet gone through customs. Some countries and airports restrict the area to passengers only to try to reduce baggage theft. US domestic airports usually allow everyone in the baggage claim though. Apr 11, 2017 at 15:57
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    This is not entirely correct. Baggage claim for International arrivals is a sterile environment for Customs.
    – Johns-305
    Apr 11, 2017 at 16:06
  • 8
    I think you should at least mention that this doesn't necessarily apply for international travel. I've never been to an airport that permitted unrestricted access to the international baggage section (though I've never traveled in smaller EU airports).
    – Joe
    Apr 11, 2017 at 16:29
  • 2
    @Johns-305 As I already explained in my comment, it depends to a large extent on specific local arrangements if the luggage pickup area for international arrivals is a 'sterile environment for Customs' (whatever exactly you mean by that). Apr 11, 2017 at 16:54
  • 2
    @Tor-EinarJarnbjo so by your own reasoning, you are wrong. If you say that all passengers have to go through customs (obviously with ALL their luggage) then the luggage pickup area cannot be accessible by anyone but passengers, since otherwise they could just hand off forbidden items to non-passengers. Apr 12, 2017 at 8:54

In some airports there is no distinction between arrivals and departures; there is barely a building. This is especially true on small islands where there are no international flights.

enter image description here (Airport on Taveuni. Foreground: parking lot. Background: a plane. Between: the entire airport, pretty much no walls. Picture by me.)

In larger airports, there is a lot of checking on the "official" way in - security screening, exit immigration processes, and so on - and only people who are carrying a boarding pass for a departing flight and have been screened should be in the inner departure area, while only those who have just arrived should be in the inner arrivals area. The general public is not allowed in either area - sometimes for security reasons, sometimes also for customs and immigration reasons.

Generally this is enforced by signs that say "do not turn back" and even "do not stop" and a person sitting at a desk, apparently doing nothing, who will raise a huge ruckus if anyone "goes backwards" for any reason. Sometimes the entire terminal is evacuated and re-screened. It's a big deal.

  • 2
    This is why I love that "original research" is allowed on SE. Nice shot. :)
    – Wildcard
    Apr 13, 2017 at 2:03
  • if you click the picture to see the large version and look at the nose of the plane you will see a member of airport staff pushing a cart full of luggage towards us. Apr 13, 2017 at 19:38

In a nutshell, it's often forbidden and there is a sign to that effect. Reasons include maintaining an orderly flow of people and making customs checks easier. At the same time, the luggage claim area is less sensitive than the sterile transit or departure areas so you will find some (typically smaller) airports with doors that don't do much to stop people from entering anyway or even with no separation whatsoever.

In many European airports, where domestic and international (or non-Schengen) passengers use the same luggage claim area, you will find more robust one-way doors before this area and regular sliding doors between the luggage claim area and the public parts of the airport.

  • At Amsterdam and other European airports the doors between the baggage claims and the public area are one way and quite sturdy (and at times guarded).
    – jwenting
    Apr 14, 2017 at 13:22
  • @jwenting Not really, an earlier version of my answer actually mentioned Amsterdam as an example of what I mean. It's still a single sliding door, not sure if there is an alarm but walking through when the door is open (which it is most of the time) does not seem difficult. There is also a corridor and a supermarket-style entrance gate that make it feel less welcoming than other airports like Eindhoven but nothing that physically prevent you from passing through. Compare that to the one-way doors before the luggage claim area, which are actually designed to stop you from turning back.
    – Relaxed
    Apr 15, 2017 at 14:02
  • there are alarms, and cameras watching them. And of course during periods of increased risk there will be people there as well. I do agree that it's not a very inviting place. Used to be a lot more open, but even before 9/11 they replaced the clear glass walls with frosted glass to prevent people outside looking into the claims area, and after 9/11 came the meandering passages and now occasionally fences inside the claims area blocking people from moving between the luggage delivery belts.
    – jwenting
    Apr 18, 2017 at 6:06

Are there signs posted on the doors prohibiting re-entry?
Often, those doors are open so that if someone e.g. needed help carrying luggage, someone could enter to meet the passenger and help pick things up. This assumes it's a domestic arrival area where passengers do not need to then go through customs.

However, most people are going out and you don't typically see people going in, because that is the natural traffic flow for arriving passengers to want to leave the airport on to their next destinations.

Even without customs/immigrations one-way flow, some airports may restrict access to the baggage claim area to reduce baggage theft, illegal taxi drivers pestering arriving passengers about rides, etc. (and some because they are concerned about events like this, but that was committed by someone who just got off the flight).

In general, if there is a restriction against traffic flow, such that you may not enter an area you just exited (e.g. to retrieve a forgotten item or person who seems to have gotten stuck behind), there should be signage indicating the restriction. In the absence of such signage, it is generally allowed to "swim upstream" and go the other way into arrivals; just watch out for colliding with others.

Typically, once you exit the security-controlled zone there is a sign like "once you pass this point you must continue to exit" and then you can't return back without another security screening. However, this is before reaching baggage claim (again, assuming domestic flight without customs).


There are generally three* sterile areas in an airport. Air Side Departures, Immigration and Customs.

This answer is specifically limited to the difference in Baggage Claim because that is what the OP specifically asked about: "you pick-up your luggage and then you pass through these sliding doors"

For Domestic Arrivals, Baggage Claim is outside all sterile zones so people can freely move in and out of Baggage Claim. Note though, some airports have checkpoints to deter theft where claim checks are verified when entering or exiting.

For International Arrivals, Baggage Claim is within the Customs sterile zone. Once you leave, you cannot re-enter without authorization. While the exit may appear open, it is monitored.

* Note, I said generally, as in most common. Yes, different airports can have different layouts.

  • 10
    You seem to be assuming that all airports are in the USA. In other countries, it is not necessarily the case that the non-travelling public has access to baggage claim for domestic arrivals. Apr 11, 2017 at 19:26
  • 1
    @DavidRicherby Note how I stressed the word generally.
    – Johns-305
    Apr 11, 2017 at 19:48
  • 12
    Yes, I noted that. However, airports are generally (as in most commonly) outside the USA. The fact that something is generally true within the USA does not mean that it is generally true outside the USA. Apr 11, 2017 at 19:50
  • 2
    @DavidRicherby Except a significant plurality of airports are in the United States and Canada. Plus, the various airport I've visited sprinkled across the Caribbean/Central America, Europe, Africa and Asia are generally arranged this way. There was one place, don't remember, where domestic baggage claim was accessible from arrivals only, they had those rotating one way doors like on the subway. Also, one or two probably in Europe where the baggage hall could be in or out of Customs.
    – Johns-305
    Apr 11, 2017 at 19:59
  • 6
    Within the EEA (except Norway) customs are cleared at the final airport of arrival. So you always need to be able to have a customs presence even at domestic bag claims, because international bags can be arriving at domestic belt from an international-to-domestic connection. Thus within Europe don't tend to allow unfettered access to the arrivals halls by non-passengers, even at domestic bag claims where they exist. There might be some exceptions at small airfields but it is unusual. Most European airports are not set up with separate international / domestic bag claims either.
    – Calchas
    Apr 12, 2017 at 9:36

This would vary from airport from airport.

In London airports (for example Stansted) after collection of luggage there is a corridor half way along the corridor there are automatic gates which are always open. Then further at the end there is the arrival exit way no doors.

Between those 2 points there are sensors that detect the movement of passengers, if anyone starts walking backwards those automatic doors get shut. So you are stuck between those 2 points, and will be escorted back by the police to the exit.

I don't know if there are any fines/charges.

  • There are no fines but HMRC doesn't like it, hence they insist on this oneway arrangement. This even applies to domestic flights.
    – Calchas
    Apr 12, 2017 at 9:29
  • 1
    It's even more obvious at Gatwick. At the exit the wide corridor splits into several narrow corridors for a few meters, each wide enough for one person only. There are automatic doors at both ends of each narrow corridor.
    – thelem
    Apr 12, 2017 at 12:30

It completely depends on the particular airport. I hadn't seen anyone do it in at least 10 years until a few days ago when a women entered with a gift to surprise someone arriving. This was at HUI which is a domestic-only airport in Vietnam.

In large international aiports, the luggage claim area is before customs and it will not be accessible since outside passengers cannot reach customs anyway. In others, it is often blocked by security to avoid theives getting in.

In small airports, including international ones located so small islands such as most Caribbeans and African Islands, the luggage may simply be delivered where the plane lands (so it will be in the secure zone and not accessible) or in a common area which is used by arriving and departing passengers. In one case, this shared area was the parking lot!

  • 1
    " In others, it is often blocked by security to avoid theses getting in." - for some reason, that gave me a mental image of Martin Luther doing some illegal fly-posting at an airport... ;)
    – alephzero
    Apr 13, 2017 at 11:02

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