7 Tips on How to Ease the Baggage Claim Carousel “War Zone”

ou 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 — even after I first wrote about this issue back on Tuesday, July 30, 2013…

…but sadly, that apparently still does not seem to be the case. During my recent travels, I noticed mayhem at the baggage carousels at the airports of locations such as Cairo. What a chaotic madhouse through which I passed on my way out — but I intend to discuss that in a future article as part of another topic. For this article, I offer to you 7 tips on how to ease the baggage claim carousel “war zone”.

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 — and you would think that that would have changed by now in 2015.

No one has answered; so I will ask again: 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, being nickeled-and-dimed to oblivion with ancillary fees you did not even know existed, 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 as quickly as possible and finally be on your way — can be the “pièce de résistance” which sets the tone in a negative manner at either the beginning or the end of your “wonderful” trip.

Who says travelers do not get enough exercise? Do you not believe that it is 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 — so you must counterbalance them with all your might. That will really give your biceps and quadriceps an intense workout — not to mention the heavy breathing you will experience afterwards.

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? Do they think they are getting a front-row seat to something which they will otherwise miss, like at a professional sporting event or a musical concert? 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 and how they should be used, 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 7 tips for a more effective experience until the baggage claim experience is hopefully one day significantly improved:

1. 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 – or maybe even enjoy a meal. You are not going to leave the airport any faster anyway; so you may as well enjoy the experience.

Some people might compare this tip to being one of the first to board an airplane: unless you plan to enjoy a drink prior to departure or you plan on staking a claim in the overhead storage bin for your carry-on luggage, why bother?

2. 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.

3. 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. Affix a unique sticker to your luggage. Those are simply three 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.

4. If You are Part of a Group, Designate Someone to Retrieve the Baggage

Designate a person who could retrieve the luggage from the carousel and 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.

Hmm…“official baggage fetcher”…is that like being a designated driver for those who are addicted to being at the edge of the carousel?

5. Be Civil and 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.

Come to think of it, this should be applied in all aspects of daily life — not just at the baggage claim carousel.

6. Shout “Hot Soup, Coming Through!”

To be used sparingly and only as a last resort, shouting “Hot soup, coming through!” 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 as quickly as possible 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; and be certain to do it 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.

By the way: can someone explain to me why people like to congregate around doorways instead of moving over to the side to have their conversation?

7. Do Not Check Your Luggage

What better way is there to avoid the baggage claim carousel altogether? If you can help it, do not check your luggage. Enough said.

Summary

There is no reason to go through more trouble than necessary at the baggage claim carousel — especially even if you only follow some of the aforementioned tips in this article.

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

12 thoughts on “7 Tips on How to Ease the Baggage Claim Carousel “War Zone””

  1. DaninMCI says:

    To me the one of the dumbest things is airports that feel they need to put a fence around the carousel areas so it’s like herding people into cattle pens. STL E terminal comes to mind as one of the worst but there are many many others. It’s not like some railing or fence is going to keep someone from stealing your luggage, well other than the airline that is.

    I do check my bags a lot. Mostly because I either need the luggage space for work or a long trip and I also get checked bags for free via cabin choice or credit card. It is bad and people animals at times. It does vary greatly by airport though, of course.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      All of what you said is true, DaninMCI — which is why I rarely ever check bags whenever I travel by airplane.

  2. Danny says:

    My recommendation is to get to the carousel as soon as possible and keep an eye on your bags as they come off the belt.

    It is so easy for someone to steal your bag and walk away. I had that happen in Las Vegas. None of the authorities cared and if you file a claim you only receive a small percentage of the replacement cost if you are successful.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      I am sorry to learn of your experience, Danny.

      One can get to the carousel as soon as possible and usually eventually be able to spot his or her bag without being at the very front of the “mob”, so to speak — but I rarely carry anything of value in checked luggage; so although I would prefer not to have it lost or stolen, it would not be a huge inconvenience if either of those scenarios happened to me.

      By the way, I have thankfully never had a bag lost or stolen in the years in which I have been traveling. I hope that it never happens again to you…

  3. Matt B says:

    You hit on perhaps my biggest pet peeve of traveling. Why oh why can’t people leave just a few feet of open space between themselves and the carousel. Leave some room so that when a bag comes around, it’s owner can actually have the space to remove it and then get out of the way. And those that bring their entire family, including 80 year old grandma and 5 year old kid to form a natural barrier right up against the carousel are most annoying. If you aren’t going to be the one removing the bag, get the freak out of the way.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      I wish I can answer your question, Matt B. It is enough to have me shake my head in amazement.

      Perhaps the reason is similar to why people congregate in doorways to talk instead of move over to the side to allow other people to pass…

  4. Great list. Related to the only sending one person rule, I would also say no small children. I’m amazed at how many families let small kids play around a baggage carousel. Between the carousel itself and the fact that you have people moving 50 lb bags around, it’s not safe, and they just get in everyone else’s way. This is not the time to have your kids be “helping”.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      I completely agree with you, Everybody Hates A Tourist.

      That is practically an invitation for the small child to suffer from an injury as a result…

  5. Captain Kirk says:

    While I very rarely check bags, almost never in fact. The handful of times I have, I am usually with my wife. We are the fast walker types who seem to always be one of if not the first ones there. Many carousels have two chutes to which bags empty from. I will stand at one, and she will stand at the other. We mark out bags with a distinct bag tag, and I use a unique colored piece of ribbon as a secondary measure. We happen to like black luggage so we aren’t going to purchase some ugly purple or green shaded bag. I will say please and thanks if need be. I have had no issues getting my bags so far. *knock on wood*

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      That is a great strategy for couples, Captain Kirk

      …and being originally from New York, I am a fast walker type myself. I used to be able to walk in Manhattan from midtown to downtown without having to stop for a single traffic light or other impediment, believe it or not…

  6. Peter says:

    I agree with Matt B.
    Unfortunately i have to fly with checked bags and I hate all the idiots who just stand right in front of the baggage carousel and block it for everybody else. Some airports have even marking on the floor to stand behind this line until you want to grab your bag.

    What I also dont get at US airports. the baggage claim is in a non security area. Why not put it in a secured area that only passengers can get there. Like on international arrivals.
    In the US everybody from outside can walk up to the carousel and take whatever he wants.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      Placing baggage claim in a secure area sounds like a simple solution, Peter; but I am unsure as to what are the actual logistics of doing so at airports in the United States.

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