One of the most stressful aspects of flying is worrying about your luggage. Does your carry on fit in the overhead? Will it cost to check my bags? Will my checked bags make it to my destination? And what happens to my checked bags if you have a connection? This is important because it can dictate whether you should check bags at all. I recently had a flight from Tokyo to Miami connect in LAX. If you’ve never been, LAX is one of the busiest, slowest airports in the country. We had an hour and 20 minutes which is almost not even a legal connection. And we realized upon arriving that we did have to collect and recheck our bags because we were flying into one terminal and out another terminal. We made it, thankfully. But had we known in advance, we probably would have just carried on our bags and had a less stressful time at the airport. So here is a quick guide to help you avoid the same trauma I went through.
So when do you have to recheck your bags at the airport? The answer depends on a lot of factors and each specific instance can be unique. I’ll try to cover most of the common scenarios.
If you booked your flights separately. One example of a scenario in which you will always have to collect and recheck your bags at the airport is if you booked yourself a ghetto connection. For instance, if you’re using a Groupon that flies out of JFK in NY but you live in Cincinnati, you will have two separate itineraries. You will have to book your flight to New York on your own. Even if you’re flying on the same airline, your bags will not transfer because they are different itineraries.
Even if you booked one itinerary, there are instances in which you’ll still have to check bags. That depends heavily on the airlines and the airport. One instance in which you will always have to recheck your bags at a connecting airport is when you go through customs. The international terminal is usually separate from domestic terminals and the customs process always involves picking up your bags and going through additional security checks. In almost all instances, you go through customs at your first domestic stop. So if you’re going from Egypt to New York to Chicago, you will have to go through customs in New York and you will have to recheck your bags there.
On domestic flights when your itinerary involves two separate airlines, you may end up having to recheck your bags as well. That’s because only some airlines have interline baggage transfer agreements with each other. In other words, even if you can buy a ticket with two legs on different airlines doesn’t mean the two airlines will transfer your bags from one company to another at the connecting airport. The best way to find out for sure is to call the airline and ask. It’s better to find out in advance and plan accordingly than to find out last minute that you have to recheck bags at a connecting airport and miss your flight.
Another factor that can determine whether you’re expected to recheck your bags at a connecting airport is the length of your connection. If a connection is longer than several hours, it may be considered a stopover, meaning your bags will be at baggage claim waiting for you to collect them and recheck them before your next flight. Check airline policy or call the airline directly about your itinerary to determine if that is true for your particular flight.
In most other cases, your bags will probably be checked to your final destination. You can (and should) always ask the person checking you into your flight to confirm this information for you. But if you’re in a situation where you’re not sure, do everything you can to find out ahead of time so your flight connection will be a smooth one.