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05 December 2023

Airport secrets: Does 'fragile' label on luggage help while flying?

In most circumstances, truthfully, stickers don't work. Baggage handlers throw passenger luggage into plane cargo holds quickly and haphazardly. (Shutterstock)

By Ajanta Paul

Discovering a gaping hole where your bag's zipper once was or opening your suitcase to find smashed souvenirs are both regrettable and distressing.

So what do fliers do to prevent such travel mishaps? Most of us consider labelling luggage as 'fragile' is the safest bet to protect precious items.

Here are few revelations from a baggage handler and frequent travellers that might break your heart.

No one notices

A baggage handler who, of course, spoke to us anonymously said labelling your luggage as fragile may not be very helpful.

Those fragile stickers don't get noticed very often in the rush of loading bags unless it is an obvious shape, such as a musical instrument or a camera tripod.

In most circumstances, truthfully, stickers don't work. Baggage handlers throw passenger luggage into plane cargo holds quickly and haphazardly.

There's no telling whether a handler will see your bag's fragile sticker, let alone follow its instructions.

Why this happens

Usually baggage handlers are under pressure to get the bags in the plane on time. The bags are put into containers, then the containers were loaded onto the plane.

William Mccleary a former aircraft mechanic says in Quora, "Sometimes, when I would open a container, I would see fragile stickers flying by as they crash landed on the conveyor belt. There wasn't much I could do, but I would say most of my fellow co-workers could care less. It was a physically demanding job, required nothing but a high school education and the airport bordered neighborhoods of generally low income."

David Cameron, travels around the world as part of his career says, "There is something that does far more damage to our luggage than baggage handlers. They are machines called 'luggage kickers' these things are used to literally kick baggage from one moving belt to another. Since these machines are mindless, they kick every bag as if it is the heaviest bag that the system can handle - even bags with fragile stickers."

Like any other bag

Connor Edwards, who is a ground crew at SEA and a student pilot says, "We handle it as any other bag. To be honest, we hardly pay attention to any sticker other than the bag tag with the flight number. If we get a guitar case, we are often more gentle but that's really about it.

"Do they (luggage) get thrown? Yes, they have to. It has to go from the cargo door all the way to the person stacking the bags. We simply don't have time to walk every bag down. Please don't pack anything breakable."

Speaking on Quora Jeppe Lajer says, "I worked seven years as a baggage handler and from my experience a fragile tag doesn’t mean extra care. There is simply too many bags and too little time.
Animals and dangerous goods are handled with extra care - and sometimes instruments too."

Take care

Most airlines discourage passengers from checking fragile or breakable items.

"Invest in quality luggage. You are the only one that handles your bag with care. Your bag is going to take a beating in the system," says paradoxofchoice in a Reddit discussion.

Another Redditor, Touchmy**tring gave a very vital tip: Use a hard case suitcase.

He went on to say, "I see employee chuck bags around all the time. Most of the time it’s not on purpose it’s just we handle so many bags it’s impossible to be careful with everyone. If it isn't hard case your things can be easily damaged. Also avoid fragile stickers because a lot of ******** will target the bag and chuck it on purpose.

Frequent flier Ms Sood says, "I have learnt the hard way. Now I have stopped checking-in fragile items and even if I do I pack them well.

"Hard-sided suitcases will get less damage, but also look for well-designed handles. The best bags to get are the 'spinners' with four wheels on the bottom, because handlers don't have to throw them, they can easily glide my bag down the belly of the plane."

Ship your items

Consider shipping your fragile artifacts and instruments instead of checking it.

Not only is this method often extremely cost-effective, it could be a better way to protect the contents of your suitcase. Take your breakables to a post office or shipping store and ask the staff to help you pack your things carefully.

And if you 'have to' carry that precious item with you, get it packed by a professional. Make sure you cushion your item in the suitcase even after careful packaging.