Luggage Removal from a Commercial Aircraft--How Does It Work?
March 10, 2014 4:34 PM   Subscribe

When someone checks in for a flight but doesn’t board, how do airlines locate their luggage to remove it from the aircraft?

Most of us have been on flights that were 5-10 minutes late, because checked-in passengers failed to board, and their luggage had to be removed from the aircraft.

How they heck are they able to do this when there are hundreds of bags loaded on the plane? I’m looking for something more than “barcodes”.
posted by Short Attention Sp to Travel & Transportation (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
They put luggages in big metal boxes and load them to the plane and they have an inventory of which luggages are in which boxes. So they only have to look for it in just one box.
Check this link.
posted by WizKid at 4:50 PM on March 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm not really sure what sort of answer you're looking for. Luggage on a plane is loaded into "unit load devices", and generally, luggage is only tracked to the ULD level. So, if the luggage has been loaded, the appropriate ULD is unloaded, and then the bag is manually searched for (using the barcodes on the luggage) and removed.
posted by saeculorum at 4:50 PM on March 10, 2014

Sometimes, it doesn't work, and the bag flies. I have had several experiences where I have missed a tight connection but somehow my bag has made it, and they had to pull the bag out of the back room when I finally got to my destination.
posted by rockindata at 6:59 PM on March 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

In the US, bags are only removed from international flights. In my experience, when it gets very close to departure time, ground crew will radio the gate agents to verify if passengers that they suspect are not on board are or are not. If they aren't, the bags are removed.
posted by jaksemas at 8:36 PM on March 10, 2014

I've definitely been on a flight that was well over half an hour late because they were having a hard time finding the bag. And it was definitely a domestic flight, but it was 11 years ago or so.
posted by town of cats at 10:31 PM on March 10, 2014

This will also depend on the size of the plane - the last international flight I was on was on a tiny plane, and I saw the luggage being loaded. This was a dude chucking bags into the hold. In this case, I suspect that unloading a single bag would involve the same process in reverse with more swearing.
posted by Vortisaur at 2:46 AM on March 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

I expect I'm a very rare case, but I've been on a flight where, when they thought they had a passenger who checked a bag and failed to board the plane, they unloaded the entire hold, deplaned all of us (at 1AM!), and had us go through and pick our bags out.

Caveats: it was a 3rd world country (although a 1st world carrier: British Airways), and it was during the first Gulf War with a flight plan directly over the Middle East so everyone was extra-nervous.

The pilot also told us, once we got back on board at 3AM, they they discovered early on in the unloading process that it was a mistake on the part of someone entering data in that created a fictitious passenger, but they decided to go through with the bag check anyway. The flight attendants started the drinks trolleys as soon as they were allowed to get up, and automatically asked everyone if they wanted a double of whatever they ordered.
posted by telophase at 10:36 AM on March 11, 2014

BTW, the article that WizKid linked must be quite old since the vast majority of the content is devoted specifically to the Denver airport automated baggage system, which was abandoned more than 8 years ago. So I wouldn't use it as a good source of information on baggage handling.
posted by Quiscale at 4:07 PM on March 11, 2014

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