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 accompany 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.
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.