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How safe is your luggage at an airport

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It's always unnerving, that moment we wave our luggage goodbye at check-in and watch it roll down the conveyor belt and into the great unknown. 

That suitcase does, after all, contain all our favourite, carefully-curated and most essential worldly goods. Well rest assured, there's a very slim chance it will come to harm - at least not on purpose. 

One former baggage handler has offered a comprehensive account of what goes on between the time you fly from A to B, and offered insights into how you can best protect your belongings while they're not under your care. 

Toronto-based aviation worker Manpreet Singh, writing on question-answer forum Quora, revealed the following nuggets.

It's really hard for airport staff to steal

"For someone to steal from your luggage is quite rare these days but it does happen," he states, adding that plenty of CCTV cameras are postitioned in baggage processing units and even some aircraft cargo holds, thus "eliminating temptation".

If they do, they will get caught

"Ground handling companies keep close watch on their employees and if they notice that theft is reported on a certain employee's shift frequently, an undercover investigation is launched," he writes. "Majority of the times the thief is caught and prosecuted."

No, you don't need a knife-resistant case

"I have no idea why the first guy said to buy a knife resistant suitcase," Singh muses. "If you aren't allowed to bring a knife into the terminal, why the hell would they allow us to have one?" Fair point. Airport staff undergo the same screening processes as passengers, he points out.

And if an employee were to be caught with a knife? "You lose your security clearance and you also lose your job. Baggage handlers know this so they don't do such stupid things."

All that said, luggage does get damaged on ocassion and that's because of the robust system of transporting it. It's also down to human error, more specifically yours. 

What on Earth happens to lost luggage?

Top causes for damage to luggage

Overpacking is perilous, according to Singh, who says he saw at least one bulging case burst open on a daily basis because of this. "Just because your suitcase barely closes, doesn't mean it's going to hold," he remarks. He also points to luggage with loose threads that get tangled in machinery.

"I've seen suitcases get torn to shreds and people's things scattered all over belts in the past. If you're still using your grandpa's suitcase from the 70s, you're just asking for it." 

Lost bags | How often does it happen?

Beware the airport 'punching arm'

At all major airports, there's a solid metal arm which knocks bags onto the right laterals during transport.

"It's meant to push things that weigh up to 100 pounds, so if you had [a bottle of] wine not secured properly in your bag, it's going to end up all over your clothes," Singh warns. The arm is also a bad business, again, for overpacked bags.

Yes, your bags will be thrown

"Unless you're flying wide body, chances are your luggage is being thrown around underneath your seat," Singh states.

"From the aft cargo door to the end of the pit of a 737–800 is roughly 25–30 feet. That bag being unloaded needs to be thrown from the back, to the door."

These days, it's a pretty streamlined process Credit:Getty

Conclusion? Chances are your luggage will take a battering as it makes its way through an airport, but it's unlikely to be tampered with on purpose. And according to Singh, everyone in this day and age should upgrade from soft suitcases: "Hard cover is the one and only way to go."

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