Travel Tips: Why Your Bags get Damaged

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If you're flying somewhere for the holidays, the fear of a lost or damaged bag is always in the back of our mind soon after checking in at the airport. You've made sure to pack everything you need for the week or so you're gone, and you've also somehow made room in that bag for the gifts you bought for your loved ones. Having worked at an airline at DIA, I can tell you that everyone who handles your bag is well aware of its importance to you, especially this time of year. Like anything that is not stationary, and when you include the human element, things beyond your control can and will happen. That's life. I'm going to make you aware of some things (specific to Denver International Airport) that might shed some light on how bags get damaged and what you can do to reduce the chances of that happening.


  • Ramp agents are on their knees in a bin that is about 3-feet tall and stacking bags like a bricks in a wall. Lots of bags. The heavy ones break the most.
  • Agents grab the handle first, then one of the wheels for leverage to lift. Most of the bags that lost a strap or wheel when I worked there were heavy bags.
  • You get what you pay for: cheap bags will last a while. Cheap heavy bags will always break.
  • Anything over 50lbs for most airlines is considered a heavy bag.
  • If you packed light and you still had damage inside of your bag, good chance a heavy bag was on top of yours.
  • Bags move in a hurry at the gate (throwing? Maybe.). A heavy bag is more likely to fall short of target and land on the ground.

Another factor: The Human Element

Ramp agents for most of the airlines at DIA handle a lot of bags and especially this time of year. Not just luggage bags, but also oversized items like ski's and freight. That's a lot of handling and a lot of wear and tear. Mistakes will happen with fatigue and redundancy/complacency. Bags have been known to miss their mark on the baggage loader belt and fall off. That could be a drop of 4-8 feet, depending on which end of the plane the bag is on.

Have you had the handle thing on your zipper go missing? That's mostly due to the worn-out sheet metal bottom of the bin. After years of usage and an untold number of bags and freight, the rivets in the sheet metal get worn out or missing. So, when sliding your bag (heavy or not) to and from the belt loader, a zipper handle will get caught in a gap of the sheet metal and rip right off. Keep that in mind if you wish to pack anything in the front pouches of your bag. I have seen lots of random items scattered on the bin floor from such a situation.

At DIA, if you are flying in or out of the B or C-concourse, that's a long haul to the main terminal. While you are riding the train, a ramp agent is in a Tug carrying your bags in luggage carts down the same tunnel. I've made that trip several times. The Tugs go no faster than 15mph and the trip takes about 10 minutes. It's very loud down there. So loud, that if a bag were to somehow fall off a luggage cart, you couldn't hear it. If another bag were to fall off and get wedged underneath a luggage cart wheel and dragged all the way to the baggage claim belt, it would also make a lot of noise. It would also be smoldering. I have seen this. No, I didn't do it, but I was behind a driver who was dragging a bag. There was no way I could stop him until he the very end. That bag was torn up and smoldering. Not kidding.

As for lost bags, there's only one thing I can strongly advise to help with that. If you do the self-help kiosk check-in, make sure you are applying the bag tag properly and make sure you apply it to a part of the bag that won't break off. As I mentioned before, sometimes handles break. But I can say that most of the lost bags I dealt with did have the bag tag. Lost bags are mostly due to human error, which I'm sure doesn't surprise you. I'll have more on that in my next blog.