What Happens to Your Checked Baggage on Connecting Flights?

September 21, 2021
Lee Ferrara

It's not uncommon for passengers with connecting flights to experience significant delays at the baggage carousel. Much time passes before concerned glances turn into full-on scowls, complete with balled up fists and exasperated sighs.  And when people finally spot their checked bags? A cheer erupts...

Without question, the most common complaint among frequent travelers is about lost luggage. Airline baggage departments are always working to streamline the checking process, but everyone has had to wait at some point. 

Now you've reached your destination. Excitement is in the air with all the new people, experiences and activities you're about to experience on your trip. But before you get too excited, there's a few things you should know concerning your connecting flight baggage and how to get it back once you reach your connecting flight as fast as possible...

...so delays do NOT ruin your trip.

Do You Have to Recheck Luggage on Connecting Flights?

Checking your luggage is one of those necessary evils you just have to go through when flying. Most people don't want to check their bags because they're afraid their suitcases will get lost, stolen or damaged...and thus never make to their final destination.

The good news? If you're connecting on a domestic flight, you DO NOT have to your bags as the carrier will forward them on to your next flight.

how do connecting flights work with baggage

What Happens to Your Checked Baggage on International Connecting Flights?

One of the most common questions we receive from international travelers is: "What happens to my checked luggage when I connect between international separate flights at a U.S. hub?"

Unfortunately, there is no 'one size fits all' answer. It depends on your international and local airports and the different airlines, as well as where you checked your bags within your international journey.

We'll break it down as easily as possible...

How Do Connecting Flights Work with Baggage?

First things first: International checked baggage is typically only handled by international airports, not your departure airport.

For instance, if you travel from New York to Paris, your international check-in takes place at the international terminal in New York (the first flight), not at the domestic terminal of JFK where your U.S. journey began. 

This international check-in is also where your baggage will be re-tagged to the international carrier's airline code if you checked your bag to a separate international airport.

In this case, it is unlikely that your bag would continue on to Paris by making an international-to-domestic transfer. The bag would likely stay with your international carrier, although the international carrier is not required to hold onto it.

This may be risky if you are transferring to a city/airport that international carriers don't normally serve (i.e., O'Hare instead of Paris).

Make Sure to Recheck Your Bags on International Transfers

If your international flight is international-domestic, then your checked baggage will likely be transferred between airlines for you. The international carrier would drop the checked bag off at the domestic airline's international ticket counter.

Arriving international passengers with a boarding pass (not to mention always having your passports/and or visa on you at all times!) go through customs and then must recheck their baggage at a counter or machines before going to their connecting flights.

So be mindful that you'll have to make sure rechecking takes place. And give yourself plenty of time in transit.

Not sure if your international flight is international-domestic? Most international flights are one way (from country A to country B). If you're traveling from London to Atlanta, you're international-domestic. 

IMPORTANT: If 2 carriers have an Interline Agreement (or they are partner airlines), you may not need to recheck bags for the second flight. Make sure you call your airlines to get specifics so you're prepared.

Travel Tip: If you have really small luggage, it never hurts to be cautious and make it your carry-on bag (especially if you have valuable items such as medications). 🙂

When you purchase a layover flight, you will need to claim your bags when you land at your layover destination, and recheck them the next day when you continue your flight(s). how to book flights with long layovers

do you have to recheck luggage on connecting flights

Do You Have to Pay Baggage Fees for Connecting Flights?

It depends on the airline, but typically the answer is no.

Typically, airlines do not charge baggage fees on direct flights...or domestic flights. However, they often assess charges for bags on international itineraries. If you are transferring between two domestic airports (e.g., O'Hare Airport in Chicago and Midway Airport in Chicago) on the same airline, there is usually no charge for baggage on your ticket purchases.

If you are connecting through an international airport (e.g.,  San Francisco  to  Tokyo), you should use the check-in counter with your airline about any fees; most airlines do not charge these fees if the connection time is four hours or less.

How to Avoid Lost Luggage with Your Connections

Luggage can also get separated from its owner while navigating through transfer hubs or being loaded onto connecting flights. Carriers have teams in place to handle these situations, but delays do occur when a bag is accidentally sent to the wrong city or left behind at an earlier stop.

In some cases, travelers have their bags returned before ever leaving the airport. Sometimes they must wander from one ticket counter to another until reaching their destination, and they find their bag.

In any case, make sure you have luggage tags that include your arrival and departure addresses, email address, phone number, and any special delivery instructions. Make sure they are firmly attached to both handles of your suitcase for easy identification by airline staff.

Conclusion

Unfortunately, your checked baggage on connecting flights can sometimes get lost. This means you may need to buy new clothes or other necessities, and it’s a hassle if your flight is delayed for hours waiting for the right bag to show up.

However, there are precautions you can take outlined above before and during your trip that will help ensure everything goes according to plan:

- Know how many bags you're checking in when booking

- Make sure all tags match (to avoid customs hassles and immigration, etc...)

- And pack only what's needed so each person has one carry-on item.

- It never hurts to have a travel agent in case you need help...utilize them! 

If this sounds like too much work but still want some peace of mind knowing how unlikely it is that your luggage will get lost.

Just make sure you prepare!

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