You’re planning to leave your bag at the baggage claim. Maybe you want to spend a few hours in the airport lounge before heading out, or maybe you’re planning on skipping the next flight entirely but you’re traveling with checked luggage.
Whatever the reason, in this article, we’ll explain everything you need to know. We’ll tell you what happens with abandoned checked luggage at baggage claim, how long is it generally kept in baggage claim, and how to retrieve forgotten baggage from baggage claim.
What Happens if You Leave Your Bag at Baggage Claim?
When somebody leaves their bag at baggage claim for too long, eventually it will get forwarded to the lost luggage department.
That said, someone could potentially steal checked luggage from the conveyor belts before it gets forwarded to the correct department. Baggage thieves look for abandoned luggage specifically because it means that the owner isn’t around to catch them in the act. They usually wait at the baggage carousel and look for bags that keep going in circles and nobody’s picking them up. This means that the bag is most likely lost (sent to the incorrect airport or sent without the passenger). This happens pretty rarely though, and most of the time, the luggage gets forwarded to lost property.
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1. After a While, an Airport Employee Will Move Your Bag to Lost Property
Most airports nowadays have facilities for storing unclaimed checked luggage, called “lost property” or “luggage services” or something similar. This depends on the airport, but sometimes the airport itself picks up unclaimed luggage and sometimes the airline you were flying with.
Usually, unclaimed checked luggage gets forwarded to the responsible department after 30-60 minutes of it spinning around on the luggage carousel. This depends on how busy the airport is (busier airport means that they need to clear the carousels faster), whether the flight was delayed, and how fast the baggage handlers were able to unload all of the baggage.
Unclaimed baggage is very common in airports. Usually, it’s there because the bag itself is lost, not because the passenger has failed to pick it up in time. Either the luggage was sent to the wrong destination or the passenger missed the flight and the bag was sent without the passenger. Airports are very familiar with this process and already have protocols in place on what to do with unclaimed baggage.
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2. If the Bag Contains a Label, the Airline Will Contact You and Deliver It With Courier Services
As soon as unclaimed luggage is sent to lost property, the responsible airline is notified and they try to get in touch with the owner. If the bag still has a valid tag on it, the airline gets in touch with the passenger by calling or emailing them. They have the passenger contact details from booking the flight.
The airline has to pay for storing unclaimed baggage at the airport, so it’s in their best interest to deliver it to its rightful owner as soon as possible. They usually ask the passenger to come back to the airport and pick it up or deliver it via courier services, such as FedEx or UPS. Usually, the courier costs are covered by the airline.
If the bag has been sent to the wrong destination or if the owner failed to board the flight, the airline will still deliver the luggage via courier services, instead of putting it on another flight. That’s because in a lot of countries it’s illegal for luggage to fly without a passenger due to terrorism risks.
If no tags/stickers are found on the luggage, the airline will open up the bag and look at individual luggage tags or anything else that would pinpoint the owner. That’s why we’d recommend for anyone who’s flying with checked luggage to add personal luggage tags in addition to the labels printed by the airline, in case they get ripped off for some reason.
Tip: Add this luggage tag to your suitcase to increase the chances of finding it in case it gets lost.
3. If the Label Is Lost, the Airline Will Wait for 60 Days for the Owner to Show Up
If the airline can’t find the owner of the unclaimed baggage, it will usually stay at the lost property department for about five days. After that, it’s sent to a warehouse, where it’s kept for another 60 days in case the owner shows up. Usually, bags that are sent to warehouses don’t get picked up because they don’t have any tags and the owner doesn’t know which airport the bag has been sent to.
4. If Nobody Shows Up, the Bag Will Be Auctioned or Donated.
After 60 days, if the bag still isn’t picked up by the owner, it’s usually auctioned for cheap prices or it’s donated. Airlines don’t make much money from auctioning lost luggage. They actually lose money on the warehouse costs and the airport costs for storing it at the lost luggage facilities. By auctioning lost luggage, they’re just recouping a tiny fraction of their costs. So it’s in the airline’s best interest for you to pick the bag up, instead of auctioning it, which will cost much more.
Tip: A good idea would be to purchase a luggage GPS tracker. If your suitcase ever gets lost or stolen, you’ll be able to find out its location in no time.
Why Do Some People Intentionally Leave Their Bags at the Baggage Claim?
Some people purposefully leave their bags at the baggage claim because they want to spend some time inside the airport before leaving. The most common scenario is that they have to wait for someone else at the airport for a few hours, so they decide to spend a few hours at the airport lounge due to its comfortable facilities.
Another reason why some people choose to leave their bags at the baggage claim is due to long layovers. If the layover is very long, let’s say over 12 hours, naturally, you’d want to go out in the city and kill your time off there instead of waiting at the airport. If your checked luggage isn’t rechecked automatically, you’d have to pick it up and lug it around the town. A much easier thing to do would be to just leave the bag at the baggage claim and pick it up only when you come back to the airport.
How Long Is It Okay to Leave Your Bag at the Baggage Claim?
We wouldn’t recommend leaving your checked luggage at the baggage claim for any amount of time. That’s because while it’s left unattended at the luggage carousel, it could get stolen or someone could unintentionally pick it up, mistaking it with their own bag.
That said, arriving 15-30 minutes late is usually fine. Most of the time, luggage is kept on the luggage carousel for about 30-60 minutes, depending on how busy the airport is. So if you want to grab something at the duty-free shop or go to the toilet before picking up your luggage, it’s totally okay.
If you’re planning on leaving your bag at the baggage claim for a few hours, a much smarter idea would be to notify the airline in advance. When you land, just call the airline you were flying with and say that you’ll pick up the bag after a few hours. They’ll get someone to pick up your bag from the baggage carousels and tell you how and where to pick it up when you’re done.
Do You Have to Pay a Fee for Not Picking up Your Bag at the Baggage Claim?
Usually, passengers don’t have to pay a fee for failing to pick up their luggage from baggage claim in time. They’re contacted by the airline, which arranges plans for them to pick it up, free of charge. If the luggage must be delivered with courier services, the airline usually covers the costs, not the passenger.
That said, for airlines, unclaimed luggage ends up costing money in airport and warehouse fees for storing the unclaimed luggage, courier services, extra time in salary for the airline staff, and so on. Airlines want to get the luggage back to its owner as soon as possible because they want to keep their costs low. The courier fees are pretty insignificant when compared to their costs for storing the luggage.
Leaving your luggage at the baggage claim might seem like a good idea, especially if you need to kill a few hours in the airport, but we wouldn’t recommend doing that. The baggage might get stolen or mistakenly taken by other passengers while it’s left there unattended.
It’s fine to pick up luggage from the checked luggage carousel after about 30 minutes, but if it’s more than that, you should call the airline in advance. Let them know that you’ll be picking up your bag after a few hours, and they’ll dispatch an employee to go pick it up and tell you where to pick it up. That way, it won’t get stolen while left unattended.
If by any chance, you don’t pick up your checked luggage, it will most likely be delivered to you via courier services.