Baggage Claim Carousel: How to Ease the “War Zone”

Does this scene at the baggage claim carousel look familiar to you? Photograph by FlyerTalk member andymo99. Click on the photograph for a discussion pertaining to a “commitment” to baggage delivery service at the baggage claim carousel by Delta Air Lines at Salt Lake City International Airport.

You would think that with the advent of ancillary fees charged for checked bags that the crowding around the baggage claim carousel at airports would be diminished and more civilized as a result of fewer people checking their luggage.

Sadly, that apparently does not seem to be the case. The baggage claim experience is one of the reasons why I avoid checking luggage at all costs when I travel — and that experience has remained largely unchanged for decades. It seems that the only way you can tell the difference between the baggage claim carousel experience in the 1960s versus today is the fashion trends of the clothing worn by the passengers waiting for their bags.

Could someone please tell me whose bag is that which continuously rotates around the baggage claim carousel multiple times all by itself while scores of people angrily await their bags? How about when the baggage claim carousel is rotating endlessly empty — only to stop, diminishing the hopes that your luggage will come out anytime soon? Are these some kinds of cruel jokes purposely perpetrated by the airlines primarily for entertainment value?

It is bad enough to endure factors which would contribute to an unpleasant flight — a crowded airplane, cramped seating, a delayed departure, poor service, malfunctioning in-flight entertainment system, and someone slowly blocking your way to finally exit off of the airplane…

…but to get to the baggage claim carousel to find people crowding against it — hindering you when your luggage is ready to be taken so that you can get out of there and finally be on your way — can be the “pièce de résistance” which tops off your “wonderful” trip.

It is not fun to pull your luggage off of the baggage claim carousel with several people pressed against your back, practically pushing you onto the carousel itself. Their puerile jostling is enough to cause you to lose your balance — or inadvertently whack the inconsiderate people behind you “accidentally” with your bag as you whip it around up from the baggage claim carousel.

For the record, I do not whack people with my luggage as I almost never check luggage anyway whenever I travel — so please, no nasty comments about how childish I am.

By the way — with the above scenarios — I am assuming that your luggage is not the last to be placed on the baggage claim carousel, which could easily add at least 30 minutes to the end of your trip.

Why do people not stand back at least three feet from the carousel at the baggage claim area? What is with the attitude of what seems to be every man for himself once at the baggage claim carousel? Is it because they are so anxious to leave that they unwittingly exacerbate the unpleasant process? Perhaps it is because most luggage initially looks the same? Does whatever civility there is left of air travel become irrelevant past the baggage claim sign?

FlyerTalk member elCheapoDeluxe has what seems to be a simple solution to this problem: “The circumference of a circle grows as the radius increases. If we step back a few feet and increase that radius, more people can have a front row view of the carousel!”

Ahh — if it were only that simple.

Many people are naturally territorial — especially when it comes to “gate lice” at the gate, reclining seats, the space in overhead bin storage compartments, the use of armrests and window shades, and that treasured spot at the baggage claim carousel. FlyerTalk member petal discusses her experience after “staking her claim” as she and her family awaited their luggage at a baggage claim carousel: “I turned to speak with my daughter for perhaps 10 seconds and imagine my surprise when I turned back and found a man standing directly in front of me. He turned and yelled back to his wife ‘Here Honey, this is a great spot.’ He was completely offended when I told him that it was a great spot, because it was my spot and I’d been standing there for quite a while. He literally said ‘You don’t own it!’ I felt like I was having a conversation with a six-year-old.”

Some airports attempt to have the issue of herds of wild cattle — er…passengers — at the baggage claim carousels resolved by either having a line on the floor clearly demarcating not to step forward in front of it until you are ready to retrieve your luggage, or by installing a ramp around the circumference of the baggage claim carousel which is just uncomfortable enough on which to stand but does not inhibit the retrieval of luggage.

As I said, I attempt to avoid checking luggage at all costs — but if you must check luggage, here are some tips for a more effective experience until the baggage claim experience is hopefully one day significantly improved:

Take your time arriving at the baggage claim carousel. Perhaps shop at an airport proprietor or grab a snack and relax for approximately 15 minutes after you leave the airplane. You are not going to leave the airport any faster anyway, so you may as well enjoy the experience.

Choose a less crowded area of the baggage claim carousel. Unless the flight was completely full and the baggage claim carousel is smaller than normal, the baggage claim carousel is usually not completely surrounded by crowds. I have noticed that the part of the baggage claim carousel just before where the luggage on the belt disappears to start its next round is usually the least crowded — probably because your luggage will arrive approximately a whole minute later than if you stood at the point where the luggage first comes out. Can you really spare that extra minute for the convenience of not being crowded when retrieving your luggage? Of course you can.

Mark your luggage with something distinctive so that it stands out. Attach something with a bright color and an unusual shape on your luggage — for example, FlyerTalk member slawecki uses a large fluffy yellow ribbon tied to the handle. Or, print a word in large letters so that you know it is your luggage. Those are simply two of many ways to immediately recognize your luggage on the baggage claim carousel the second you spot it — and also prevent someone else from accidentally taking it. I have never mistakenly taken the luggage of someone else; nor has anyone ever mistakenly taken my luggage.

If you are part of a group, designate someone to retrieve the baggage. That person could then pass off the luggage to another member of the party who will immediately whisk it away from the baggage claim carousel to the rest of the members of the group. There is no need for some or all members of a party traveling together to be at the baggage claim carousel, as all it does is contribute to increased crowding and serves no productive purpose. If every group traveling together designated an “official baggage fetcher” to be near the baggage claim carousel, perhaps the crowds would thin and civility would return — even if only partially.

Be polite. Say “Excuse me” and use such words as please and thank you. Proper manners can go a long way towards getting what you want — in this case, retrieving your checked luggage as quickly as possible — without unnecessarily increasing animosity.

Shout “Hot soup, coming through!” To be used sparingly and only as a last resort, this is especially useful in crowded areas where people are simply not paying attention to their surroundings or are too preoccupied with a distraction. I learned this trick from a wedding photographer who always needed to get from the altar where the bride and groom were just married to the reception area in order to properly and promptly photograph the event but was consistently blocked by crowds of people — and this surprisingly effective secret has worked every single time for me. Shout “Hot soup, coming through!” loudly and repeatedly; with authority and a touch of urgency. The crowd in front of you will part like the Red Sea purportedly did for Moses in the Bible — and by the time people realize what just happened, you will have been long gone. You might even hear some laughter or the faint questions of “Hot soup? Here?!?” from confused people behind you during your egress.

What do you do to streamline or simplify your experience at the baggage claim carousel?

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Comments (Showing 6 of 6)

  • mot29 at 1:05pm July 31, 2013

    I do think back to an arrival at LED many, many years ago — in fact it was still Leningrad in the USSR. The carousel wasn’t a carousel — just a conveyer belt that ended — and the bags fell off the end into a pile.

  • garrym at 1:22pm July 31, 2013

    When some airlines had staff matching claim checks with bag tags at the baggage claim exits, I took my time to get checked bags. Now, though, I get to baggage claim as soon as I can, hopefully before the bags arrive, so I can watch them come down the belt and onto the carousel and then grab them before they leave my sight.

  • harvyk at 4:19pm July 31, 2013

    I rarely check bags these days, but when I do I have a bright yellow tag which is pretty distinctive (in all my travels I have only ever seen one other bag with the same coloured bag tag).

    My best experience was at SFO, where I was flying business and as soon as I’d been through immi, an agent passed my bag straight to me.

    My worst experience was a flight to Darwin, I’d forgotten to put my bag tag on before I left home so I quickly used one of the QF ones sitting at CBR airport. Needless to say on arrival at DRW, my big black bag with QF tags looked identical to the other 100 big black bags with QF tags.

  • smedleyb at 11:36am August 01, 2013

    After an 11 hour flight from EWR to HNL, I parked myself in an advantageous spot in front of carousel with a couple carry on bags in front of me and my two kids directly behind me. Well. some lady found it necessary to chastise me for taking up “so much space” and cluttering the carousel area (even though I was trying to use the minimum amount of space). I politely told her to go fuck herself, being the nasty old hag that she was. Maybe I was wrong, but when you’re cooped up like livestock for half a day, the last thing you want to hear is another passenger admonishing you for poor baggage carousel etiquette.

  • Millon deFloss at 4:34am August 02, 2013

    At smaller airports (e.g., Baton Rouge, Tucson), go the rental car counter, THEN to baggage claim. Saves time and aggravation for both tasks.

  • pathompson at 1:48pm August 15, 2013

    Whose bag is that going ’round and ’round the carousel? Might be mine. TWICE this year I deplaned, headed out of the airport, got into my car, drove home. And forgot to collect my bag. *sigh*

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