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Travel Advice

A friend says:

Having recently worked for half a year in baggage handling for a major airline (RyanAir), I would like to offer the following advice:

1. NEVER EVER put computers, cameras, radios, TV's (I've seen it!), glasses, passports, money, winebottles or anything else fragile or valuable you're not prepared to lose or have broken in checkin baggage.

In spite of everyones best efforts (and because of some not so good efforts), baggage does get lost or damaged. Even the bumping about on the conveyor belt is more than I would like to subject fragile equipment to. I've seen hard cases on castors come trundling down the belt at about 100 miles an hour and bags do frequently fall off the trolleys or floats on their way to and from the aircraft, particularly the hard plastic ones which are very slippery. If everyone does their job, the bag will be found and loaded before the aircraft departs, but fragile contents may be damaged. If a wine bottle breaks and the spill damages other people's baggage, you will be held responsible.

2. NEVER EVER put anything at all in external zippered or velcro flapped pockets on your checkin bags.

Most airline groundcrew are honest and those who aren't are ususally kept honest by CCTV, but external pockets are very vulnerable to accidental opening, particularly when the aircraft is being unloaded and the baggage handler grabs and pulls at whatever part of the bag he can get at. Many velcro flapped pockets actually have large openings where there is no velcro, and all sorts of stuff fall out of them even if the flap stays shut. I've also seen lose cameras, passports, phone chargers, personal stereos and if I added it all up, enough money in coins to run a small African republic come down the belt from the checkin hall having rattled out of bags on their way down. If we were lucky, it would be obvious which bag the items had come out of and we could stuff them back in, if not. Tough luck!

One of the guys I worked with financed all his lunch money by harvesting a certain spot on the floor under a bend in the checkin conveyor! Oh, and we kept finding those silly little padlocks people use on their zippers on the ground all over the place. Most of them are so cheaply made they will open or fall apart if they're bumped.

3. NEVER EVER assume your bags will be transported right side up.

They won't. They'll quite probably tumble down the conveyorbelt from checkin to the baggage hall or be bumped by other tumbling bags, they may fall off the trolley or baggage float between the baggage hall and aircraft, they'll be stowed in the baggage hold of the aircraft anyway they fit and they may fall off the belt in the arrivals hall. If you still expect that items stowed in external pockets with velcro flaps will be with the bag at your destination, I have a very nice steel tower in Paris for sale and a beautiful bridge in Edinburgh with a lifelong supply of paint to go with it!

4. NEVER EVER assume that your checkin luggage will remain dry.

RyanAir routinely turnaround a fully laden 737-800 (189 passengers) in 25 minutes. In daytime, their aircraft almost spend more time in the air than on the ground. That's why they use 737's, they're Jeeps with wings. The first of the outbound bags are usually taken out to the stand at least 15 minutes before the aircraft is due to arrive. When the aircraft has landed, it is first offloaded and then the outbound bags are loaded up, which will take most of the available time. That means your bag may be outdoors for up to 40 minutes, sometimes much longer if the aircraft is delayed coming in. The bags are driven to and from the aircraft on open trollies or baggage floats. If it's raining at one or the other of the airports, your bags will get wet. If it's raining hard, they will get very wet Don't blame the airline if your clothes and electronics are all soaked when you arrive at your destination. The best is to pack things in plastic bags inside your luggage. If you use those shrinkwrap services, your bags will become very awkward to handle for the baggage staff (which may inspire rougher handling), and attract the attention of the security staff who'll wonder what's so valuable in your bag.

5. NEVER EVER checkin your bags with old baggage tags from the same or other airlines.

If you flew Dublin to Frankfurt last week and are flying Dublin to Stansted today or even the same route at slightly different times and the bag comes down the belt with two tags, you are at best causing problems for the staff who may have to check numbers to figure out which is the current one.

At worst, the tags may be at opposite ends of the bag or the newest one has been ripped off on the belt, so the handler only sees the wrong one and sends your bag to Frankfurt. Then there is one bag too many on the Frankfurt flight, which means all the bags have to be offloaded, recounted and the culprit found, but by that time, your flight will have left, someone will have to try to identify your bag to find out where it was supposed to be going and there will be a lot of annoyed passengers on the delayed Frankfurt flight.

If you check your bag in with tags from two different airlines and it falls off the trolley on the way out to the aircraft, RyanAir staff will drive past it, cast a quick glance and only see the old Air Lingus tag. Air Lingus staff will see their tag, stop and have a look, see it's an old one and that the bag also has a new RyanAir tag on the other side and drive on. Result, your bag spends half a day on the tarmac (probably in the rain).

6. NEVER EVER check in a bag without putting some sort of identification on it. It should preferably include your name and adress, telephone number, flight number, date you are travelling, point of departure, any aircraft changes for the trip, your destination and hotel details at your destination if applicable. Put the same information on a sheet of paper inside the bag on top of everything else so it's the first thing the staff see if they have to open your bag to identify it (only done by a select few pretty girls at RyanAir DUB). This will be invaluable if the tag (and external identification) have been ripped off your bag.

7. NEVER EVER fly with anything that's under pressure, including gas cannisters, cartridges for inflatable lifevests, paint tins etc.

You may not think of paint tins as being under pressure, but when the aircraft reaches cruising altitude, the pressure outside the tin will be lower than that inside, and the lid will probably pop. Guess who has to pay when everyone elses luggage and the inside of the baggage hold end up the colour you indended for granny's kitchen!

8. NEVER EVER put sharp or pointed objects in your checkin bag, particularly if it's a soft bag.

Airline staff have been seriously injured by objects like knives and knitting needles etc. The baggage handler puts a soft bag on top of a load of other bags in the hold, places his hand against the end of the bag and gives it a good shove, and a knitting needle goes right through his hand. I've seen this and it looked very painful! It could just as well have been me, and guess who had to pay!

9. NEVER EVER pack your bag so full that the slightest bump will spring the catches or split the bag. If you're really lucky, your bag will arrive and most of the contents will still be in it, but you'll spend a couple of hours cutting through all the duck tape before you can open it!

10. And finally, NEVER EVER assume you'll get away with just a few kilos overweight on your checkin baggage, particularly if you're flying with a budget airline.

They've got to make money somehow!

The checkin staff may or may not be lenient, but make sure you know in advance what you may have to pay for your overweight, so you don't end up having to bin half your luggage at the airport.

Airlines do, and will continue to mess up. Baggage handling is hard work with low pay, so there is a big turnaround of staff. Inexperienced staff are prone to cockups and some of the long term staff just don't care because they're being screwed by their employer, but I'd be willing to bet that more than two thirds of the lost or damaged luggage is caused by the stuipidity of the passenger! Making the bag doesn't go astray in the first place is the airlines responsibility. Making sure it will be easy to identify it and get it back on track if it does is yours.

PS. Before anyone says anything about RyanAir, I'd like to point out that while I worked for them, we were consistently the European airline that had the fewest delays and fewest lost bags. I assume everything has gone to the dogs now that I've quit though. The thing that REALLY stinks about RyanAir is the pay! Some of those old 737-200's are getting rather long in the tooth too, but Michael O'Leary has ordered a lot of shiny new 737-800's.

There is NO WAY I would put my Psion in checkin baggage, regardless of which airline I was flying with!

See also:


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