How Long Does Baggage Claim Take And Why Do I Have To Wait So Long?

Unfortunately, you may be one of those people who has gotten off of a flight, only to get to baggage claim and not see your checked bag. Sometimes you have to wait for an hour. What happens? How long does baggage claim take?

It can seem like it can take forever for your bags to show up! But there are a couple of reasons. Working as as baggage handler for the past 15 years has its perks, so here is what happens. 

How long does baggage claim take?

Depending on the size of the plane, there may staffing issues. Ideally there should be a couple of ramp agents handing your carry-on bags, while a few other agents are unloading the plane. Planes have a minimum number of workers that must work each flight.

Those minimums, however, do not always allow for maximum customer efficiency.

If they are understaffed, your checked bags can’t be unloaded until you and your fellow passengers get your carry-ons. Carry-on bags are supposed to be the first luggage unloaded so passengers can be on their way. 

This is a carry-on bag I recommend that comes with checked luggage. And it comes in a few different colors.

Staffing Issues

Unfortunately, the pandemic has had direct impact on staffing for all airlines worldwide. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, “If every unemployed person in the country found a job, we would still have 5.4 million open jobs.”

To give you some perspective, I worked as a baggage handler for a major airline. Pre-pandemic, that area was responsible for pulling bags off of the carrousel and stacking them in the appropriate carts. Each cart held around 7 or 8 destinations and there were 9 people responsible for that job.

During the Pandemic, the number of employees doing that job was reduced to 2. Now that travel has picked back up, staffing has remained the same which means you have a couple of people doing the job of 9 employees.

You are going to have issues with your checked bags.

Baggage Claim Wait Times

Baggage claim wait times will differ of course. There is a local runner (the person who picks up bags that aren’t transferring to another plane) assigned to a gate. However, that local runner isn’t usually assigned to one gate, they may have ten gates. Find out what other airport baggage handler jobs there are here 

The runner has to wait until every piece of luggage is unloaded before he can leave and go to the next plane. Why? Because he has to verify that he has gotten every local bag on that flight. It can sometimes take up to 20 minutes to unload a plane, depending on how many bags are being unloaded.

Remember, you do not have to claim your bags in your connecting city when you have a domestic flight. Read more about how to deal with international connecting bags here.

If all ten planes come in at the same time (which happens more that you know) the local runner should get bags from the plane that arrives first.  After getting those bags, they should be dropped at the local belt. He should then go back and get the bags from the other planes. If that happened, your wait time would be minimal. 

But that doesn’t usually happen.

The local runner will sometimes wait until ALL OF THE PLANES are unloaded THEN collect all of the local bags. It can take an hour for all of those planes to be unloaded. This is one reason your bags can take so long. 

Weather Delays

Another reason your bag takes so long is because of weather delays. The tarmac (or the ramp as it will be called from now on) closes when lightning is too close. The rule is if the lightning is less than 5 miles away, the ramp has to close. There has to be no lightning for at least 15 minutes before the ramp can be opened again. You can read more about that by clicking here. 

So what does that mean for passengers? If ramp staff has started unloading your bags and the ramp closes, those agents are not allowed to continue working. They HAVE to go inside.


Because the ramp is filled with tons of equipment that lighting would love to strike. No one wants any ramp agent or airport worker to be in the position to be struck by lightning. So, until the ramp is clear of lighting for at least 15 minutes, no bags can be unloaded.

To sum up: When there is severe weather, or even when there is simply thunder and lightning, you may experience longer wait times for your baggage.

It is my hope that this information will alleviate some of your stress as you are waiting for your checked bags.

Read here for 100 travel planning tips to help you not be stressed. and 5 ways to not go crazy while in an airport. 

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One Comment

  1. We definitely notice and especially on charter flights, it takes a long time for our bags to arrive. We travel with Alaska quite a bit and really like that they have the 20 minute guarantee to receive your bags at the carousel. 🙂

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