Have you ever noticed that there is something magical about the hidden journey of your luggage when you travel by plane?
You bid your luggage adieu at the baggage drop counter and you do not see them again until you reach the destination airport at the other end. Such a huge complex operation seems to miraculously take care of itself.
In reality, there is a whole lot of behind-the-scenes action that take place which most of us are unaware.
There are many questions that cross our minds. Who is looking after my things? How do the airlines know which plane to put my bags on? Are my bags safe?
Here’s a sneak peek into what really happens when you wave off your bag at check-in.
Baggage is a huge operation
"Baggage handling is all about logistics,"
There are people everywhere - some buzzing around in trucks with baggage stacked on trolleys rushing on the way to a departing flight, while others loading luggage they had just received onto the automatic sorting system or carousel for collection.
The kind of coordination and effort required is by far the best in any industry. There is someone responsible for every step of the process, from the moment your bag is checked-in to the moment till the time you lift it off the carousel at your destination.
There are approx. nine or ten teams specifically for the ramp operations - where the bags are loaded and unloaded off the aircraft. Separately further 40 people are there in the baggage room.
Where’s my bag gone?
When you check in your bags, it runs down conveyor belts into the baggage system. The first stop for your bags is the X-Ray machines for security screening. Once a go ahead signal is given by the system, it moves along and rejoins the baggage system where it’s arranged to board the correct flight.
Amazingly, the automated system helps to scan the bag tags correctly on the belts and they are allocated to their correct gate. Depending on the type of aircraft, bags are loaded either on the flat narrow body trays or wide body containers. It is an extraordinarily streamlined process, which is mandatory for the enormous volume of bags going through the system. It is said that some airports, like Dubai, handles as vast as 15,000 bags per hour.
Remove your old baggage tags
We all admit it and we are surely guilty about letting old baggage tags remain on our luggage like it is some sort of collector’s item. The old stickers and tags from your bag can negatively impact the system that automatically scans your bag causing the system to jam. Then luggage needs to be pulled manually from the conveyor belt and process it. The backlog of such kind of mishaps can cause major delays.
Pro tip: Always ensure that your bag is tag and sticker free to avoid delays you might be causing unknowingly.
Avoid extravagant decorations
The network of conveyor belts can be instantly jammed by anything protruding from a bag hanging cuddly toy. All bags rumbles along toward a boxy beige device that looks a bit like the scanners you put your carry-on bag through, only about twice as big. As the bag approaches, there is a mechanism that gets it properly aligned to the rubber like rumble strip, and a metal curb gives a shove if that fails. The bag passes through in the machine which called an Examiner 3DX. The machine checks two things: decides whether there is a bomb inside and sends a three-dimensional image of any suspicious bag to a nearby control room.
A bag refuses to align properly for the scanner in case of any extra ordinary hangings on the bag. A bag is placed on the belt with its wheels down so it squirms around and causes confusion for the bags behind it. A bag’s strap or name tag gets snared in a belt causing a sudden jam all the way up the line.
The baggage transfer process is full of agility and all the teams require complete hands on deck. Also as a responsible passenger, it is our responsibility to avoid anything that may hinder their processed.