Anyone who has ever checked a bag with the airlines knows that the probability of damage or loss is high. Whether a suitcase gets snagged on a conveyor belt or a cardboard box takes a tumble during loading, accidents such as rips, tears and broken—or missing—belongings do happen. For this reason, many travelers are hesitant to hand their bags over the counter, instead opting to haul around cumbersome carry-ons. Use these eight tips to check a bag safely and securely for the ultimate convenience in traveling.
1. Use a Luggage-Wrapping Service
At major metropolitan airports, travelers can find large machines manned by an employee who will help wrap luggage before it gets checked with the airline. These machines use sheets of plastic film to wrap everything from skateboards to suitcases. In addition to protecting luggage from scratches, tears and accidental openings, it’s a great theft deterrent—layers of plastic take much longer to break through than a flimsy lock. Ripped plastic will alert travelers to luggage tampering or TSA searches. It also protects luggage from inclement weather during the loading process.
2. Use TSA-Approved Locks
Locks do little in the way of protection from theft, but securing zippers can help prevent unwanted openings while in transit. Zippers can get snagged and personal belongings can be scattered inside the cargo hold or on the tarmac. Purchase a TSA-approved lock or risk it being cut during a physical inspection. Also know that there is a universal master key, so if you’re using a lock for security purposes, think twice and be sure not to pack valuables in the suitcase.
3. Request a Fragile Sticker
In general, it’s never a good idea to pack breakable items in checked luggage. When it’s unavoidable, however, be sure to wrap the item in bubble packaging and request a “fragile” sticker from the ticketing agent. The chances that the luggage will be treated with care are low, but it’s an additional measure to protect belongings.
4. Check the Right Kind of Bag
When packing for a vacation, some travelers don’t consider that the type of bag they’re putting their belongings in can have an impact on its security. The bag should have a place to easily affix some form of identification and contact information, and should not have any miscellaneous straps that could get snagged in conveyor belts. For color, loud, garish prints and colors may not be visually appealing, but make it easy to spot luggage at baggage claim before someone else picks it up off the carousel. Additionally, more high-end bags in expensive materials like leather are often targeted at baggage claim.
5. Remove Excess Tags
Scanners can sometimes misread bag check stickers and tags from previous trips. On rare occasions, the bag can accidentally be routed to the incorrect destination. Additionally, if a bag gets lost, it may be sent to the wrong destination to be recovered. It’s good practice to strip the bag of all tags right after arriving at a destination to avoid any confusion
6. Pack Properly
What goes into a suitcase is as important as its exterior. Overstuffing a bag will not only make it difficult to stack, but in many cases baggage handlers will be more likely to toss it around to avoid lifting and setting it down carefully. Heavy bags will typically end up at the bottom of a pile. However, it’s equally imperative that a checked suitcase is full—this will help keep its shape and aid the handlers in stacking luggage. This may seem like a bit of a paradox—full, but not too full—but putting just enough into a bag will help protect it from careless baggage handling.
7. Buy a Four-Wheel Suitcase
In earlier days of air travel, suitcases only had two wheels—if that. Today, many bags found in airports glide effortless along with the help of four rotating wheels. These bags are the best bet for minimal damage during the baggage handling stage, as airline crews can roll these through the cabin when loading and stacking rather than throw them (though this may vary based on the type of aircraft). The downside of these four-wheeled spinner suitcases is that the wheels can occasionally be snapped off during loading; consider purchasing a suitcases with embedded wheels—you lose some versatility, but the bag is still easy for handlers to load and unload.
8. Bring Duct Tape to Patch Holes That are Made in Transit
Sometimes, despite careful preparation, rips and tears are unavoidable. For a quick fix, duct tape provides powerful adhesive to seal holes. In addition to its ability to hold sides of bags together, it offers a durability to protect from the elements if the accident happens while away from home.
Checking a bag doesn’t have to be a risky venture—by packing carefully and taking precautions to prevent accidents, it can be a safe and convenient way for travelers to keep their hands free when navigating an airport.