Have you ever flown on an airplane? If so, you may have enjoyed going to the airport and flying on the plane as much as whatever you did at your final destination.

Before you left, you probably packed everything you would need for your trip in a suitcase. Upon arrival at the airport, you might have been surprised to learn that some of your luggage couldn’t sit next to you on the airplane.

Most suitcases that travel on an airplane have to be stored in special compartments away from the passengers. This frees up more room for passengers to ride in comfort. It also helps keep the plane organized.

While you rode in the airplane, you might have had fun looking out the window, listening to music or even reading a book. You probably ate a snack and enjoyed a refreshing drink, too. Your suitcases, though, didn’t get the same treatment.

When your suitcases left your hands, they probably traveled on a conveyor belt. But where did they go? What was the flight like for your luggage?

Most major airports have complex baggage handling systems that route your luggage to your plane and make sure that it gets reunited with you at your destination. Today’s systems use advanced technology to keep track of tens of thousands of bags daily.

Baggage handling systems differ from airport to airport, but they have three main jobs. First, they move your bags from the check-in area to the airplane you’ll be flying on. Once on the airplane, your bags usually sit with all the other passengers’ bags in special cargo storage areas in the belly of the airplane.

If you have to change airplanes at some point in your trip, the system will also move your bags to the new airplane you transfer to. Finally, the system will move your bags from the airplane to a central collection area — usually called baggage claim — at your final destination.

These systems work with great efficiency, moving thousands of bags every hour of every day. Although your bags have to move as quickly as you do from point to point within the airport, they also must be scanned and checked for illegal substances.

Many baggage handling systems use bar codes and electronic scanning devices to make sure bags travel to the right airplanes. Despite the use of advanced technology, errors happen every day, though.

Sometimes, bags get mishandled and miss their flight. When this happens, they may be found quickly and sent on the next available airplane. Some bags, though, get lost for longer periods of time and may end up in off-site storage facilities. Bags that are never claimed by their true owners may eventually be donated to charity or sold at special auctions.

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    • Here’s our clue, Cole: “Tomorrow’s Wonder of the Day just might fit in your pocket!” Can you guess what it could be?! :)

  1. Hey Wonderopolis!!!!!!! I have never traveled before, but if I was to travel I would probably do first class!!!!!!!!

    Please send back!!!!!

    From, Olivia

    • We bet it would be a fun adventure to travel, Olivia! We hope you’ll go somewhere in the future… we Wonder where you would go? :)

  2. Dear Wonderopolis,

    We enjoyed learning where our suitcases travel when we are on a plane. Several of us have been on planes before. We even pretended we were suitcases traveling on a plane.

    We think tomorrow’s wonder will be about a pocket watch, a key chain, hanky, or even money.

    Thank you for the wonders,
    Mrs. Tillman’s 4th graders.

    • YIPPEE, we’re glad to see that our Wonder Friends from Mrs. Tillman’s 4th grade class are here today! We wish all of you safe travels, especially during the holiday season! We Wonder: what the most important thing you would pack in your suitcase if you were traveling?

      Thank you for sharing your guesses, Wonder Friends! We’ll see you tomorrow! :)

    • We’re sorry you didn’t enjoy today’s Wonder of the Day®, Alex! If you’re having trouble viewing the video, perhaps you can try again later or check out the Wonder on another computer. Sometimes schools do not allow videos to stream. We hope you have a WONDERful day! :)

  3. We have some predictions for tomorrow’s wonder:
    -Money…how is it made?
    -What is the smallest animal?
    -Can a person be as small as an adult’s finger?
    -How are pencils made?

    We still want a wonder about elves. :) Our class sure needs an “elf on the shelf” these days.

    • Thanks for sharing a great idea for a Wonder, Maya! We can’t wait to find out what the next Wonder of the Day® will be! :)

  4. Can you do a wonder on the world of ice skating? And this was very very very very cool to learn about because I take at least 2 planes every year.

  5. Wow I am wondering what tomorrow’s wonder will be that is a hard one! I think it will be about money because money can fit in your pocket!!!!!!!

    Please write back and tell me if I am close or not!!!! PRETTY PLEASE

    • We’re so glad you shared your guess with us, Jingle Bells! We can’t wait to find out what the Wonder will be, but we’re glad you’re here today! :)

  6. That video was interesting. What are those yellow car\train things that carry the baggage called? I have never been on an airplane before. My momma and daddy have described it to me before, but you never know what it’s like until you do it. ;) Thank you for today’s wonder! It was cool! :)

    • Those are baggage carts, Berkleigh! It’s how your luggage travels throughout the airport before being placed on the airplane. We are glad to hear you enjoyed our Wonder! :)

  7. I know my luggage travels in first class even though we don’t go on trips much. We hadn’t traveled over maybe 5-6 years!
    Sincerely, Danielle :)

  8. Some people that handle our bags sometimes take away the things we use to identify them. Or sometimes even add a ribbon or a tag so that we DON’T identify them… I saw it on some documentary. Thought people should know.

    • That’s interesting, Ney! We are glad you shared that piece of information with us, especially since we always want to grab the correct bag at the airport! We sure are glad you’re WONDERing with us today! :-)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Does my luggage travel first class?
  • What is baggage claim?
  • What happens to lost luggage?

Wonder Gallery

LuggageVimeo Video

Try It Out

Flying on an airplane anytime soon? If so, you’ll want to be sure to keep your bags as safe as possible on their journey. Here are a few tips to help your bags arrive safe and sound at your destination:

  • Carry on your luggage! If you can avoid checking your bags, do so. Airlines limit the size and number of carry-on items, so you’ll want to check with your airline regarding their rules. If your trip is short, you’ll save a lot of time and energy (and possibly extra charges) if you simply pack light and keep your bags with you.
  • Lock it! If you need to check your luggage, use locks to prevent unauthorized access to their contents.
  • Don’t let your bags sit at baggage claim upon arrival! As soon as you land, head straight to the baggage claim area and grab your bags as soon as they arrive. This will prevent them from being picked up accidentally — or on purpose! — by someone else.
  • Use luggage tags and make your luggage easy to identify! Many suitcases and bags look alike. To help keep track of your bags, use luggage tags with your name and address on them. You might also consider marking your bags with a special ribbon that will help you identify it amongst the many other similar bags.

Still Wondering

In Illuminations’ Airport Numbers lesson, children participate in activities in which they focus on the role of numbers and language in the real world.

Wonder Categories/Tags

Wonder What’s Next?

Tomorrow’s Wonder of the Day just might fit in your pocket!

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