That's a phrase I hear every day in the Baggage Service office. Oh, how I wish it was that simple! What you may not realize is that your bag gets handled by 15 to 20 different people between the time it's checked in and the time you get it back. Anywhere along the way your bags can get separated.
In a perfect world, flights would always be on time, you would always get an 'A' boarding pass, and your luggage would never be missing. Unfortunately, flight delays happen, someone has to get 'B' and 'C' boarding passes, and luggage misses flights. Here's a look at what happens when you check your bags, how things can go awry, and what we at Southwest do to try to minimize mistakes. I'll also offer a few ideas about what you can do to reduce your odds of having a delayed bag.
The process starts when you first arrive at the airport to check your bag. In most of our cities we need to receive your bag more than 30 minutes (7 cities: BWI, DEN, IAD, LAS, LAX, MCO, MDW, & PHX are 45 minutes) of your scheduled departure to guarantee your bag will make your flight. (Checksouthwest.comfor current information.)That 30 (or 45) minutes does not include any wait time you might encounter prior to us tagging your bag, so plan accordingly. We can't promise your late-checked bag will arrive with you, and you'll have to come pick it up.
So, here are my first two suggestions: 1) Arrive early! Suggested airport arrival times can be found on southwest.com. I'd add even more time during holidays or spring break. 2) Take a look at your claim checks. Make sure they have your final destination on them. I've accidentally sent a bag to Tampa when you were going to Los Angeles. (Sorry, I'm human! I promise I didn't mean to!)
In some of our cities, like Nashville (BNA) where I work, after your bag is tagged, you take it to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) drop point for screening. Other cities place your bag on the belt and the screening is performed behind the scenes. Additionally, some airports mix the bags from all airlines together prior to screening and then use automation to sort them back out.
At this point, Southwest loses control of your bag. Those big x-ray machines (that you may or may not see) have a computer that tells a TSA agent when to give a bag a visual, more thorough inspection. Most often, it sees nothing, and your bag is sent on its way. Other times, it sees a possible threat (like maybe your new iPod), and your bag must be opened for inspection. Sometimes an item is just too big (like golf clubs) or too fragile (like car seats) to go in the x-ray and must be manually screened. Whatever the case, until the TSA determines a bag is safe to travel, we don't get it back!
Here's my next two suggestions: 3) Go to southwest.comand/or the TSA's website for a list of items that can and cannot be checked or carried on. 4) Use TSA approved locks so they don't have to cut yours off if your bag needs inspecting.
Now that Southwest has your bag back, it continues down the belt system to what we call "T-point." That stands for "transfer point" and is where you bag is transferred from the belt to a cart, then transported to the gate and loaded onto your aircraft. Sometimes the bag belt gets hungry and things get eaten: name tags, destination tags, etc. Occasionally bags get turned sideways and cause a jam. When that happens, lots of bags can get delayed and miss flights. I'm glad none of those things happens too often, but try as we might, sometimes 'stuff happens'.
Time for more suggestions: 5) Put a completely filled out name tag on and in your bag. We have free ones available at the ticket counter. If our destination tag comes off, I need to know who the bag belongs to. 6) Place a copy of your itinerary inside you bag. If your destination tag and name tag are missing, I'm going to have to open your bag to try and find you. You'll help me a lot if your itinerary is inside. It might even allow me to get your bag on the flight with you and you'll never know there was a problem!