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Don’t Check Your Bag at the Gate If You Value What’s Inside It

Don’t Check Your Bag at the Gate If You Value What’s Inside It
Jennifer Billock

It’s a pretty common occurrence at airports around the world to have to gate check your bag, especially if you’re on a smaller plane without enough space in the overhead bins to accommodate your carry-on luggage; it’s also unfortunate to have important or valuable items stolen from those gate-checked bags.

Did you know that the laws we follow regarding checked and carry-on bags date back to 1929? The Warsaw Convention of that year determined the rules for what we can and can’t carry in our bags. Essentially, any fragile, perishable, or valuable items are off-limits in checked baggage. But what about carry-ons? That’s when it gets tricky.

Carry-on bags are where we should (and most of us do) store the important things we don’t want to break or get lost on planes. But on small planes or overly full ones, there’s often not enough room for everyone’s carry-on—so they get checked and travel under the plane. That transit is a prime opportunity for thieves.

“In a recent example involving one of my colleagues,” wrote Adrian Young for The Independent. “The gate staff hurriedly took hand baggage from passengers, providing no opportunity to re-pack bags. Neither did the gate staff warn the passengers not to leave valuables in their bags. On arrival at the final destination, the colleague discovered their laptop was missing.”

Unfortunately, the Warsaw Convention doesn’t govern carry-on bags, even when they have to be involuntarily checked, which means there’s usually no compensation for stolen items from airlines.

Let us know on the forums: Have you ever had something stolen from your gate-checked bag? What was it, and what steps do you take to avoid it happening again?

View Comments (5)


  1. SoydeSD

    November 20, 2019 at 12:11 pm

    This just happened to me last week as I was boarding a Volaris flight in Mexico. A gate agent tagged my carry-on while I was standing in line waiting to board. When I moved forward to board, one of the agents took my case from me and put it to the side. I argued that if I wanted to check my carry-on, I would have done so when I checked my larger suitcase. After receiving no other choice, I opened my carry-on and proceeded to grab everything of value including my passport, laptop, tablet, and my headphones. It wasn’t easy keeping all of these items together as I boarded the plane, and when I noticed that the first group that had boarded was allowed to keep their carry-on’s, I was peeved at what was obviously a money grab from a cheap airline.

    They tried to do it again on the return leg a few days later, but this time I deftly side-stepped a gate agent who was arguing with two other passengers and swiftly boarded the plane. I could hear someone trying to get my attention (in Spanish, which I speak) but I ignored the call and they didn’t attempt to bring me back off the plane.

  2. chavala

    November 20, 2019 at 6:38 pm

    “ Neither did the gate staff warn the passengers not to leave valuables in their bags.“

    Does someone really need to tell you this?

  3. KRSW

    November 20, 2019 at 11:34 pm

    It’s been long-known by even non-travelers that you don’t check luggage you ever care to see again. Some carriers (Delta) have made great strides in reducing the number of lost/stolen bags, but even for them it still happens.

  4. caljn

    November 21, 2019 at 7:17 pm

    I have not had any stolen items from checked baggage in 25 years of business travel. And distinctly recall only 3 occasions when my bag did not make my flight. Not bad.

  5. adventures_await

    November 23, 2019 at 7:49 am

    I keep a TSA approved locked on all my bags. If I am forced to check my carry on I just lock the bag with it.

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