Connecting flights are stressful to begin with, and adding checked baggage to the mix only complicates things. Knowing whether or not you have to recheck a suitcase on a connecting flight is confusing, and making the wrong choice could mean your bag gets lost or you go through security unnecessarily.
Here are the rules behind rechecking a bag on a connecting flight.
International Flights Connecting in the USA
No matter what airline you’re flying, if you have a connecting flight that arrives in the United States from an international destination, you’ll need to pick up your bags and recheck them on your next flight.
Everyone entering the United States from abroad must go through customs upon arrival before their connecting flight, which involves having your luggage screened. The US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) makes this very clear on their website, warning “Baggage not obtained after your international flight will not get to your final destination.”
The one exception to this rule is if you’re traveling from an airport that offers CBP Preclearance, in which travelers go through customs at their departure point rather than upon arrival in the US. Preclearance is offered at 15 airports across Ireland, Aruba, Bermuda, the United Arab Emirates, the Bahamas, and Canada.
If you’re traveling on a single ticket with the same airline within the US, you shouldn’t have to recheck your baggage. However, it’s still worth double checking with the airline to confirm that your bag will be checked through to your final destination, especially if you have a long layover.
Hawaiian Airlines, for example, advises customers “If you have a stopover of more than 4 hours between flights, you may also need to collect your bags between flights.”
Flying on Separate Tickets
If you’ve booked your itinerary on two separate tickets yourself (rather than one booking through a single airline), you may need to recheck your luggage during your layover, especially if you’re changing airlines.
Some airlines may still be able to check your bag through to your final destination if your onward flight is with the same airline (or one of their alliance partners), so be sure to ask when you check-in.
Always Ask When Checking Your Bag
The rules on rechecking your bag really vary depending on the length of your layover, connecting destinations, and airline policies. When you’re checking in a bag, make sure to ask the person processing your suitcases if they will be checked through to your final destination.
Double check the tag that is being attached to your bag, as it will clearly show the airport code for the next destination for your suitcase.
Listen to Announcements
Feeling jet lagged and can’t remember if you were supposed to recheck your baggage? Listen to the airline’s announcements upon arrival—they will tell you where to find your luggage and how to recheck it if necessary. There will usually be signs in the airport when you disembark that will also indicate if you have to claim your baggage before connecting.
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