Not many people really know what happens to their luggage after they wave goodbye to it at the airport check-in counter. I am acquainted with what goes on inside the baggage handling system of an airport and you should be too. What I am about to describe applies mainly to larger airports. Due to their simple designs, smaller municipal airports probably play little or no part in damaging your bags.
Most people think that every new dent, scrape or missing handle or wheel is thanks to the brutal way that the baggage handlers treat our luggage. Although baggage handlers are not exactly careful with our luggage, they are not to the only cause of this damage. Have you ever wondered how a human being could inflict such damage? Well the answer to that question is that it’s not possible for a human to do that much damage. So what’s causing all of this damage?
There are actually two very separate things happening back there that you need to protect against. These are; 1) the baggage handling system itself; and 2) criminals attempting to remove valuables from or insert contraband into your luggage.
Attack of the Kickers
The first and least controllable of the dangers is the baggage system. More specifically, the baggage kickers are what cause most of the damage to our bags. The baggage belt is not one continuous belt. Airports are always trying to save space because space is money. Sometimes, bags must be moved from one belt to another so instead of gently steering your bag to where it needs to be, they use something called a “kicker”. The less dramatic technical term is “diverter” but no one I know uses that term because kicker just describes it so much better.
These devices are very fast and very accurate in launching baggage from one rubber conveyor belt to another. These kickers can’t tell one bag from another so, no matter what the size or weight of a bag, the kicker treats all luggage as if they are all very heavy bags. The force that this equipment applies to our bags also accounts for much of the breakage that takes place inside of our bags. The most visible damage is still seen as scrapes, dents, broken handles, wheels and latches. In my opinion, the best protection against the kickers is hard-side luggage. This type of bag will absorb most of the impact from the kickers and protect the contents of your bags.
It’s not just the kickers that can cause damage. There are broken luggage parts strewn all over the baggage room. If you were allowed to walk around the baggage system, you would see places where the conveyor system is naturally hard on certain parts of bags. These areas are not designed to be this way, they just happen to be prone to damaging specific bag parts of certain types of bags. In the most common of these areas you would see an accumulation of zipper puller handles, wheels or luggage straps. Unfortunately, there is little that you can do to minimize this risk. Just know that you are not being singled-out – everyone’s luggage is treated the same way.
Why Smugglers and Thieves Love Zippers
It’s this simple: Any luggage that uses zippers as a method of keeping the bag closed is at risk of being opened by thieves and smugglers. All luggage with zippers can be easily opened by forcing a ball point pen between the zips. This does not damage the zipper in anyway – after all they are meant to come apart. Once the bag has been opened and your valuables removed or contraband inserted, the criminal simply pulls the zips over the open section to close the bag. This leaves no evidence of tampering and leaves you either a victim of theft or a person carrying contraband.
At this point, the thieves simply walk away with your valuables or the smuggler texts your bag details to their accomplice at your destinations airport. The accomplice will hopefully intercept your bag at the other end and use the same technique to open your bag and remove the contraband before you pick it up at the luggage carousel.
Some newer zippered suitcases allow you to lock the zip pullers to the case. With the zipper pull handles locked, there is no way to reseal the bag. This makes the bag less attractive to smugglers but has no deterrent effect on thieves trying to remove items from your bags.
What is the solution? Never buy luggage that uses zippers as the closure system. Instead, buy luggage with a tight fitting tongue and groove closure system that uses latches and locks to seal the two sides of the case securely closed. These types of cases will keep the bad guys moving past your luggage and on to one that is much easier to break into – usually one that uses zippers.
Reusable Inflatable Bottle Bags
One other product that we use are these reusable inflatable bottle bags. They provide a cushion of air that protects your bottles as well as an inner bladder that prevents leakage should your bottles leak. One thing to note is that you have to be careful not to force the bottle into the bag or over time you will puncture the bag. We love these and they make great gifts for your friends and family.
What Hardside Case to Buy?
We are very fond of the Samsonite line of hard-side suitcases. I have owned Samsonite cases going all the way back to the original Oyster line. We now own several cases from the F’Lite line but this has recently been discontinued. There is a great website where you can find out more about safe luggage: SafeSuitCases.com.
Nothing is perfect and that goes for hard-sided luggage too. The two main problems that I have noticed is that these cases tend to be a little heavier than soft-sided luggage. This is due largely to the much sturdier construction and stronger materials that go into building the bags. Because these bags are much stronger, the second issue is that they always get put at the bottom of the pile when the bags are stacked. This leads to much more external stress on the bag but it is worth it. Imagine if it was a soft-sided bag at the bottom of the pile!
Remove any old tags from your bag: Depending on how the baggage system is designed your bag may not get kicked onto any other belts if it is free of any suspicion. It is important to do everything you can to make sure your bag is free of any reasons to scrutinize it any further. If you have any old tags or bar-code stickers, this could confuse tag readers and get your bag diverted. So, as a first precaution, always remove any old tags or bar-code stickers from your bags.