There’s something a little bit magical about the hidden journey of your luggage when you travel by plane. You bid your luggage adieu at the bag drop counter and you don’t see it again until you reach the airport at the other end. The complex operation seems to miraculously take care of itself.
In reality, there’s a whole lot of behind-the-scenes action taking place that most of us don’t realise, despite the questions that cross our minds. Who is looking after our things? How do they know which plane to put my bags on? Do our bags travel on a series of high tech rail systems, similar to Disneyland’s Space Mountain ride? Or perhaps they go on a journey through a psychedelic wonderland like in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?
Qantas recently released this fun video in collaboration with GoPro, strapping cameras onto a bag and seeing what really happens when you wave off your bag at check-in.
We headed down to Sydney Domestic Airport to experience it with our own eyes. Here’s what we learnt.
#1 Baggage is a huge operation
Stepping through the turnstile into the restricted area felt like stepping through the wardrobe into Narnia (albeit with less mystical creatures and more men in high vis jackets). There were people everywhere – some whizzing around in trucks with baggage stacked on barrows on the way to a departing flight, while others were loading luggage they’d just received onto the automatic sorting system correct carousel for collection.
The coordination of this effort is no mean feat and there’s someone responsible for every step of the way, from the moment your bag is checked-in to the moment you lift it off the carousel at your destination. There are nine or ten teams alone on ramp operations (where the bags are loaded and unloaded off the aircraft) and a further 40 people in the baggage room. With up to 15,000 bags being processed per day in Sydney, the set up requires all hands on deck and it’s absolutely lively back there.
#2 Where’s my bag gone?
So, what happens to your bag? When you check it in, the bag runs down conveyor belts into the baggage system. The first stop is the X-Ray machines for security screening. Once your bag is given the all clear, it moves along and rejoins the baggage system where it’s sorted to board the correct flight. Surprisingly, the bag tags are scanned automatically on the belts and allocated to their correct gate. Bags are then loaded onto either flat narrow body trays or wide body containers depending on the type of aircraft. It’s an impressively streamlined process, which is necessary for the volume of bags going through the system. (Some airports, like Dubai, handle 15,000 bags per hour.)
#3 Remove your old baggage tags
We’ll admit it – we’re certainly guilty of letting old baggage tags remain on our luggage like some sort of collectors item, but we have now solemnly vowed to change our ways. If you don’t remove old stickers and tags from your bag it can negatively impact the system that automatically scans your bag. Your luggage then needs to be pulled from the conveyor belt so that it can be manually processed. The backlog of these double-tagged bags can cause major delays. Pro tip: before travelling make sure your bag is tag and sticker free to avoid delays you never even knew you were causing.
#4 Avoid extravagant decorations
In the short time we were visiting, we witnessed how that dangling fancy baggage tag or hanging cuddly toy can cause big issues. The maze of conveyor belts can be instantly jammed by anything protruding from a bag – the collection of fallen items that now decorate the control desk shows just how commonly this occurs. If you have anything of value, sentimental or otherwise, keep it safe inside your bag.
Thanks to the Qantas team for our behind the scenes tour. Pack your bags and check out the latest flight offers here.