The world is huge

Don't miss any of it

Travel news, itineraries, and inspiration delivered straight to your inbox.

By proceeding, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.

10 Things Not to Do When Checking a Bag
fizkes | Adobe Stock

10 Things Not to Do When Checking a Bag

Think you won’t lose valuables if you check them in your bag? Think again. There were more than 2.25 million instances of lost or damaged luggage across the 10 busiest U.S. airports in just the first nine months of last year. And that’s not the only thing that can go wrong when checking a bag. Check out the following tips to help you avoid common pitfalls and ensure that your luggage—and you—arrive in one piece.

Close up of person in colorful striped dress trying to close an overflowing suitcase
photobyphotoboy | Adobe Stock

Don’t Pack Valuables in Your Checked Bag

As a general rule of thumb, you shouldn’t pack anything in your checked bag that you can’t permanently part with or that has a high monetary value. If you need to check your bag at the gate, be sure to remove vital items such as laptops, tablets, smartphones, prescription medications, and—perhaps most importantly—your passport.

Pricey souvenirs that you purchase during your travels should be protected in your carry-on or, if they’re too large, well packaged and shipped home; be sure to get insurance on the package as well as a tracking number so you’re covered in case of loss or breakage.

Don’t Pack Items on the TSA’s Prohibited List

It’s no surprise that fireworks and other flammable items are prohibited in checked (and all) baggage, but did you know you can’t pack certain types of batteries? It’s okay to slip a few AAs in your checked luggage, but loose lithium batteries—such as those used in cameras—must be packed in your carry-on, and wet/spillable batteries (the kind found in cars) are prohibited unless they’re part of an electric wheelchair.

Also verboten: strike-anywhere matches, electronic cigarettes (those can go in your carry-on), and, on many airlines, hoverboards. Double-check the TSA’s list of prohibited items before checking a bag.

Don’t Use a Non-TSA-Approved Lock

If your luggage needs to be physically inspected, a non-TSA-approved lock will be ripped off your bag at security—it’s that simple. Purchase one that’s been okayed by the TSA (which means that security officers can open it with a master key); the lock should be advertised as such on the label.

Use Approved Locks to Get Through TSA Safely and Securely

Although airport security does its best, there is no guarantee all of your belongings will be waiting for you at baggage claim. Save yourself the anguish after potentially getting your items stolen out of an unlocked bag by getting TSA-approved locks for your luggage.

Don’t Leave Any Loose Ends

Be sure all of the compartments and pockets on your bag are securely zipped and fastened, and don’t leave anything hanging outside of it, such as shoes laced to a handle or backpack straps dangling in all directions. These items can easily get caught on the conveyor belt at the airport and get either destroyed or lost.

Don’t Book a Tight Connection

The shorter your layover, the bigger the chance your bag won’t make it to final destination with you. Of course, most times the bag does make it, but the stress of wondering whether or not it will arrive can be eliminated with a longer layover. I recommend at least two hours, or even longer for international transfers that require you to reclaim and then recheck your bag before getting onto your next flight.

Don’t Put Liquids in a Bad Spot

Be careful about the way you pack shampoo, lotion, and other liquids. Leaving your TSA-approved bag of liquids and personal items in the outer zipper pocket of your carry-on is convenient for the flight, but can spell disaster if you’re forced to gate check your luggage. Liquids in outer pockets or at the top of your suitcase can easily break or explode when tossed around by baggage handlers. Cushioning your liquids in the main compartment of your luggage is the safer spill-proof bet.

To prevent other toiletry mishaps, try taping your liquid bottles with duct tape and putting them in a well-cushioned plastic bag. (You may not even need to pack all of them—check which toiletries will be available at your hotel.) If transporting alcohol, roll the bottles up in layers of clothing or bubble wrap.

Protect Against Spills With an Inflatable Travel Bag

The Vinnibag Inflatable Travel Bag keeps your liquids from exploding and your valuables in one piece by creating a buffer of protective air cushioning. Especially useful for breakable souvenirs or small bottles of wine or perfume.

Don’t Travel with an Unmarked Bag

It’s not uncommon for people to grab the wrong suitcase by accident at baggage claim. Make it less likely by tying a colorful ribbon to your luggage or using a unique baggage tag—anything to make your suitcase stand out in a long line of black and navy bags. Even better? Use a bag with a vibrantly colored or patterned exterior.

Don’t Get Too Close to the Weight Limit

On many airlines, checked bags can weigh up to 50 pounds—and if you exceed the limit, the charges rack up fast. If you tend to be a heavy packer, purchase a small luggage scale to help you make sure you’re within the limit. Note that you shouldn’t get your bag down to 49.9 pounds and call it a day; airport luggage scales aren’t always accurate, so you’ll want to allow a little room for error. (Bonus: That’ll leave you room to bring home a few souvenirs, too.)

Weight Your Luggage Ahead of Time

Home luggage scales like this one from Etekcity are lightweight and easy to store—no bigger than the handle of your favorite suitcase.

Don’t Gate-Check a Bag That Can Fit Under Your Seat

It’s typically free to check a bag at the gate when an aircraft runs out of overhead storage space, but only do so if you have a bag that’s worth checking. A backpack or small bag can easily fit under your seat with legroom to spare, eliminating the need to wait around for another piece of luggage at baggage claim.

Invest in an Underseat Rolling Carry-On

This underseat rolling carry-on from Samsonite is just 9 x 13.5 x 16.5 inches, complete with a USB port, 360 spinner wheels, and a padded sleeve for your laptop.

Don’t Pack All of Your Clothes in Your Checked Bag

You’ve probably heard it’s good to pack an extra pair of underwear or an entire outfit in your carry-on just in case your checked suitcase is lost, but here’s another reason to pack clothing in your hand luggage: You might get cold. Airports are often chilly, and in the event your seatmate feels the need to blast the air vent in the dead of winter, you’ll be happy to have a hoodie and maybe even some warm socks to be comfortable on the plane.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information. All of the products featured in this story were hand-selected by our travel editors. Some of the links featured in this story are affiliate links, and SmarterTravel may collect a commission (at no cost to you) if you shop through them. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.

You Might Also Like:

Why Didn’t I Get TSA PreCheck on My Boarding Pass if I’m a PreCheck Member?
Traveling with Medications: What You Need to Know
The Best Travel Pants for Men and Women
6 Things Not to Wear in the Airport Security Line
10 Ultralight Rolling Carry-on Bags Under 6 Pounds

We hand-pick everything we recommend and select items through testing and reviews. Some products are sent to us free of charge with no incentive to offer a favorable review. We offer our unbiased opinions and do not accept compensation to review products. All items are in stock and prices are accurate at the time of publication. If you buy something through our links, we may earn a commission.

Top Fares From