The Ultimate Guide to Rechecking Luggage on Connecting Flights

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Understanding whether you’ll need to pick up your checked luggage during a connection can be difficult, especially if you’re new to flying. That’s because sometimes you’ll need to collect your bags, and other times your baggage will automatically be transferred.

There are many factors that influence this, like whether you’re connecting in a different country, whether that country requires all incoming passengers to recheck their bags, whether you purchased both legs of the flight on a single ticket, and whether both airlines have interline agreements.

In this article, we’ll explain what happens to your luggage during connecting flights, so you can understand in which layovers you’ll need to recheck your bag, and in which ones your bag will transfer automatically.

Quick Guide: Will I Need to Pick Up (Recheck) My Luggage on a Connecting Flight?

  • Domestic flights + single ticket: Your checked luggage will be transferred automatically, even if flying with different airlines
  • Domestic flights + booked separately: Your checked luggage will most likely need to be rechecked* unless both airlines you’ll be flying with have an interline agreement
  • International flights + single ticket: There’s a 70/30 chance that your luggage will be transferred automatically, even with different airlines, depending on which country/ies you’re flying to
  • International flights + booked separately: You most likely will need to recheck your checked bag at every connection

*Rechecking luggage means picking up/collecting your checked bag at the connecting airport, going through customs and immigration, and then checking it in again for the next flight.

Tip: Make Sure to Check the Label on Your Checked Luggage

When you’re checking in your bag at the check-in counter, look at the label that the airline employee attaches to your bag. It will say where the bag is headed to. If it’s headed to the layover country/airport, you’ll need to recheck your bags there. If it’s headed to the final destination, you won’t need to recheck your bags. This is the most accurate way of knowing whether you’ll need to recheck your bags or not.

If you aren’t sure, you can just ask the employee at the check-in counter or call up the airline before heading to the airport. Some airlines will also let you short-check your bags if you ask, which basically means that you will need to recheck your bags. This is useful if you want to access your checked bag during the layover.

When Your Luggage Will Be Transferred Automatically on Connecting International Flights

1. Both Flights Are Booked On the Same Ticket

If you’re traveling from one destination to another, but you have a stopover along the way, and both your flights are on the same ticket (meaning, you purchased them in a single purchase, most likely through a broker), your bags will probably be checked to the final destination.

This means you don’t have to worry about collecting your baggage from the luggage carousel and having to check it in all over again. You can just sit down, relax, and enjoy the trip.

2. The Flights Are Booked With Different Airlines, but Both Airlines Have an Interline Agreement

american airlines airplane flying in blue sky

An interline agreement is an agreement between two airlines that decide to form a partnership. It simply provides a way for passengers to book itineraries on multiple airlines (including trips with layovers) without the hassle of booking each one separately. So for instance, if you’d book a flight on American airlines to an airport where American Airlines doesn’t operate, they’d most likely offer you a flight with a stopover somewhere, where the first or the second flight would be operated by American Airlines and the other one by a partnering airline, let’s say Delta or United.

If two airlines have an interline agreement in place, it means that the airline which operates the first leg of the flight will automatically recheck luggage to the partnering airline. This means that travelers who book tickets with airlines that have an existing interline agreement only need to check in once for all the flights on their itinerary and their luggage will automatically be transferred to the second airline.

So how do you find out if both airlines have interline agreements? Well, if you booked both flights on the same website and they’re on the same ticket, then they have an interline agreement. But other than that, there’s really no simple way to tell, other than Googling both airlines + “interline agreement” and doing all the research yourself.

Sometimes, even on two flights with different airlines that were booked separately, checked luggage will automatically get transferred to the final destination because both airlines had interline agreements that you didn’t know about.

When You’ll Need to Pick Up (Recheck) Your baggage on Connecting International Flights

1. Each Flight Is Booked Separately and the Airlines Don’t Have an Interline Agreement

If you are flying on different carriers with different tickets (meaning, each flight was booked separately), then there is a high probability that your luggage won’t be transferred automatically and you’ll have to do it yourself. Aside from experiencing a slight inconvenience, it isn’t actually that difficult to recheck the luggage yourself.

If the layover is pretty long (3 hours or more), then you might not be able to check it right away as the check-in counter might still be closed. If that’s the case, you can explore the airport or grab a quick snack.

Once the check-in counter opens, all you have to do is drop off your bags, pick up your boarding pass, go through the security, and wait to board the plane at the gate — pretty much identical to how you boarded your first flight.

2. The Connection Country Requires You to Go Through Customs

If you’re on an international trip and the country of the layover requires you to go through customs, you’ll need to exit the plane, collect your luggage, go through customs, and then check in your luggage all over again. It’s a little bit of a hassle, especially since you just want to relax before your next flight, but it’s a requirement so there’s no escaping it.

This requirement exists because some countries want to make sure that all incoming passengers aren’t bringing anything illegal. Even ones who won’t step out of the airport and are there just for a quick layover. This means that you need to do some research to find out what kinds of items are illegal in that country. For instance, most countries won’t allow bringing any plants, fruit, vegetables, meats, eggs, specific types of knives, and some dangerous goods. Your checked bag will be scanned for these items when going through customs and immigration.

For instance, if you’re flying internationally and you’re arriving in the US with a connecting flight to a different location in the US, you’ll have to recheck your bags the first time you land in the US. Each country has different rules though.

Here are some countries that require arriving passengers to recheck their luggage upon first landing, even if it’s just a connection:

  • The United States
  • Canada
  • Mexico
  • Europe (All EU countries are considered a single unity in this regard, so only when entering and exiting the EU)
  • The Philippines

3. The Next Airport in Your Itinerary Doesn’t Have Customs Facilities

Sometimes, especially when flying to less-popular airports, you’ll need to recheck your bag in your last connection. This happens only if the last airport you’ll be arriving at doesn’t have customs facilities, so you’ll be required to go through them at the previous airport.

For instance, if you were flying New York (USA) – Amsterdam (Netherlands) – Girona (a Smaller Spanish airport without customs near Barcelona), you’d have to re-check your bag in Amsterdam, because Girona doesn’t have customs facilities. If, however, you’d be flying New York (USA) – Amsterdam (Netherlands) – Barcelona (Spain), you wouldn’t have to re-check your bags at Amsterdam, because Barcelona has customs facilities.

(Guide) How to Recheck Your Luggage During Layover

Airport check-in desk sign

If your baggage isn’t automatically transferred, picking it up at the layover country and then rechecking it back in isn’t that hard. Here’s how the process usually goes:

  1. When you arrive at the layover destination, you’ll have to pick up your checked bag inside the airport at a designated area. You won’t be able to miss it, since the airline staff won’t let you wander around the airport without rechecking your luggage first.
  2. With your checked bag, you’ll have to go through the customs and immigration area. You’ll have to show them your passport, and they’ll check your luggage for any items that might be illegal to bring to that country, like meat, eggs, milk, fruit, vegetables, and illegal items.
  3. Sometimes, airports will have a dedicated rechecking area, where you just drop off your bag straight after going through customs.
  4. In other airports, you’ll have to recheck your bag manually, by waiting in line at the check-in desks. If your next flight is more than two hours away, you’ll probably have to wait until the check-in desks open for the next flight. If that’s the case, I hope you packed a good book. Buy a coffee or snack, find a seat, and prepare to wait until your flight opens for check-in.
  5. Once the check-in desk opens, drop off your bags and pick up your boarding pass.
  6. Go through security screening as you normally would.
  7. Go to your gate and wait until boarding starts.

Read Next: Can You Leave the Airport During a Layover?

Frequently Asked Questions About Rechecking Luggage

What happens to luggage on connecting flights with the same airline?

Unless the connecting flight takes place in a country that requires all passengers to go through Immigration and Customs, checked baggage will automatically be transferred to the next flight. Some countries, like the United States, require international passengers to go through Immigration and Customs the first time they land, even on connecting flights.

What happens to luggage on connecting flights with different airlines?

It depends on whether you purchased both flights within the same booking. If yes, then most likely, the airlines have an interline agreement, which means that your luggage will automatically be transferred to the next flight and you won’t need to recheck it. If, however, you purchased both flights separately on different bookings, then you’ll most likely need to recheck your bag at the connecting airport unless both airlines have an interline agreement. There’s no way to really find out if they do other than calling the airline directly.

Will I have to recheck my luggage on domestic flights?

On most domestic connecting flights, you won’t need to recheck your luggage. If you purchased both flights in a single booking, then your bag will always be transferred to the final destination. If they were purchased separately, most likely, you’ll have to recheck the bag at the connecting airport.

What happens to luggage on international flights with a domestic connection?

If you’ll be flying to another country and then having a layover to domestically fly to another airport, then you’ll most likely need to recheck your checked luggage upon first arriving at the destination country. For example, if you’d be flying New York, USA – Barcelona, Spain – Girona, Spain, then you’d need to recheck your bag at Barcelona, Spain. That’s because most countries require all arriving passengers to go through Customs and Immigration upon first landing within the country, even if it’s just a connection.

Do I have to pay any fees for rechecking my luggage?

Generally, you shouldn’t have to pay extra fees when rechecking luggage during a connection. If you purchased flights on the same booking, and you already paid the checked luggage fees for both flights, or if checked luggage is free, there shouldn’t be any additional fees.

The only case when you’d need to pay is if you purchased checked luggage for the first leg of the flight and forgot to purchase checked luggage for the second one. In that case, you’d be asked to purchase additional luggage when trying to check it back in at the airport, and usually, the costs for last-minute checked bags are a bit higher compared to purchasing them online.

What’s the difference between transit vs connecting flight vs layover vs stopover?

Transit, transfer, layover, and stopover are all terms used to describe the connection in a connecting flight, with at least two flights and a stop in the middle.

Transit and transfer typically mean short connections anywhere between 30 m – 4 h. The only difference is that in transit, you’re exiting and entering the same flight, and in a transfer, you’re transferring to a new airplane (and maybe even a different airline).

Layovers and stopovers are essentially long connections in connecting flights, anywhere between 4 – 24 h. Stopover refers to a slightly longer connection than a layover, but there is no distinction of when exactly that happens. Usually, layovers last only a few hours, and the term stopover is used to describe overnight layovers, where you have to spend the night at the airport.

Read Next: Airport Travel Terminology 101 – The Ultimate Guide

What’s the minimum layover time when traveling with checked luggage?

The absolute minimum time you need for a short layover is 30 minutes for domestic flights and 60 minutes for international flights. This is assuming that you’ll arrive on time, you won’t need to recheck your luggage, and the customs and security lines will be short enough.

That being said, I never book flights with such short layovers. I recommend booking flights with 2-hour layovers for domestic flights and 3-hour layovers for international flights. Most people who travel frequently generally agree with this rule, and some even prefer to add an additional hour to the layover.

You should allow more time for layovers because often planes will be delayed for 20-60 minutes. I can say confidently from my own experience, that this happens maybe once in every four flights. Also, sometimes you may face double security, or security and customs lines could be unusually long on that particular day.

Personally, I like to freshen up, get some fresh air, and have a meal during an extra-long layover. Having this much free time can help you to avoid much of the stress that you might accumulate during transit.

Can I short-check my luggage?

If the layover is long enough, sometimes airline employees will allow you to “short-check” your checked bag, which means that it won’t be checked in to the final destination. Essentially, short-checking means intentionally rechecking your luggage during a layover.

Short-checking is useful if the layover is long enough and you’ve got plans to do something during the layover. For instance, if you’d have a layover in Berlin where you’d scheduled a meeting, you might need access to your suit. In this situation, you should ask the airline employee if it’s possible to short-check your bag to Berlin because you’ll need access to your checked luggage, where the suiter compartment is located.

Tip: Personally, I always pack everything that I’ll need during a layover in my carry-on and avoid short-checking when possible.

Final Words

Generally, it’s pretty easy to understand whether you’ll need to recheck your bag if you know other factors, like if both flights are purchased in the same booking and where the layover is going to take place. However, to be certain, you should always check the label attached to your checked bag – if it’s destined for your final destination, then you won’t need to recheck your bag. Alternatively, you could just get in touch with the airline and ask directly.

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