When airlines started charging for checking in luggage, passengers were incentivised to make the most of their free hand baggage allowance.
Now, aircraft are flying fuller than ever. Predictably, for many flights there is not enough room in the overhead bins for everyone’s hand luggage.
As your boarding pass is checked, a member of ground staff says there is insufficient space in the cabin. You are told to hand over your bag so that it can be flown in the aeroplane’s hold.
Apart from the time it takes on arrival to retrieve the bag, many passengers think nothing of the consequences of this issue. However, possessions intended as cabin baggage are often of high value – and it appears that criminals know this.
There have been many incidents in which valuables have been stolen from hand baggage that was checked in. Airlines and airports will typically refuse to provide compensation – and suggest you claim from your travel insurance, which may be difficult or impossible.
The rules governing luggage go back nine decades to the Warsaw Convention of 1929. The terms and conditions of carriage for airlines state that checked baggage shall not contain fragile, perishable or valuable items. Accordingly the level of compensation to which a passenger is entitled in the case of loss or damage, as per the Warsaw Convention, only considers non-valuable items. This is not explicitly stated but is implied by other texts in the terms and conditions of carriage.
In other words: when ground staff relieve you of your hand baggage, the airline does not take on responsibility for valuables that are in the bag.
Therefore laptops, cameras, jewellery and money should never be left in any bag that going to be placed in the hold. Neither, of course, should your passport – because you won’t be (hopefully) reunited with your bag until after passport control.
Ground staff should warn passengers about this; give them a chance to re-pack; and ideally supply bags at the gate that are big enough to carry valuables. Some airlines, such as Emirates, already offer such bags at check-in to passengers whose cabin luggage is deemed too heavy and/or bulky. But often, especially in the highly pressurised time before departure, these courtesies are not provided.
In a recent example involving one of my colleagues, the gate staff hurriedly took hand baggage from passengers, providing no opportunity to re-pack bags. Neither did the gate staff warn the passengers not to leave valuables in their bags.
On arrival at the final destination, the colleague discovered their laptop was missing.
Unfortunately, theft from baggage at airports is, and always has been, a problem.
So as a passenger, if you are carrying any piece of cabin baggage too big to fit under the seat in front of you, always take a smaller bag – a carrier bag will do.
Then, when your bag is taken away at the gate, insist on time to extract your valuables.
Flying is a stressful experience for many passengers and the process of getting on board often adds to that stress. Airlines should amend their procedures to reduce the stress and decrease the chance of valuables being left in bags removed during boarding.
Adrian Young is senior aviation consultant for To70