Dear Lifehacker, What actually happens when you check a bag in at an airport, and when it arrives at the destination airport? People I have seen at airports have Qantas security screened stickers on their luggage, however I have never had one of these on mine when travelling internationally or domestically.
Do all bags get scanned, or just a selection? And when arriving into airports are the bags scanned before they reach the carousel or do they go straight to the carousel? And does anyone still have their bags wrapped in plastic? Thanks, Baggage Handled
It depends on where you're travelling. Checked baggage screening is primarily designed to prevent explosives and improvised explosive devices from being loaded onto an aircraft; so the likelihood of your bag being screened increases on flights the pose a higher security risk.
A checked baggage screening may include everything from X-ray scanners to Explosive Trace Detection (ETD) equipment and physical searches. Your luggage will usually be screened immediately after you check it in at the airport's main service counter.
Most Australian airports conduct routine security checks on passenger luggage for domestic flights. Here are the airports where your baggage could be inspected, divided by state/territory:
- NSW: Albury, Ballina, Coffs Harbour, Dubbo, Newcastle, Port Macquarie, Sydney, Tamworth, Wagga Wagga
- Victoria: Avalon, Melbourne, Mildura
- Queensland: Barcaldine, Blackall, Brisbane, Bundaberg, Cairns, Cloncurry, Emerald, Gladstone, Gold Coast, Hamilton Island, Hervey Bay, Horn Island, Longreach, Mackay, Moranbah, Mt Isa, Rockhampton, Roma, Sunshine Coast, Townsville, Weipa, Whitsunday Coast
- WA: Albany, Argyle, Broome, Busselton, Curtin, Esperance, Geraldton, Kalgoorlie-Boulder, Karratha, Kununurra, Learmonth, Newman, Paraburdoo, Perth, Port Hedland, Ravensthorpe
- NT: Alice Springs, Ayers Rock, Darwin, Gove, McArthur River
- Tasmania: Hobart, Devonport, Launceston
- SA: Adelaide, Olympic Dam, Port Lincoln
- ACT: Canberra
However, not all domestic flights are subject to a security screening due to the time and expense involved. As the Australian Government explains on its website:
"The screening of passengers, carry-on bags and checked bags is very expensive. Requiring screening for all flights could lead to some communities losing air services."
When it comes to international flights, however, security is much stricter.
Every passenger and every bag boarding an international flight is screened to counter a potential terrorist attack or other criminal activities. While security checks can seem an inconvenience, remember they are in place to protect us all.
Sometimes your luggage may be subject to additional screening procedures at the airport you disembark from. I've personally experienced this on a flight to Los Angeles: my suitcase contained a standard issue notice from the US Department of Security alerting me to an inspection. (The culprit appears to have been a metal tube of Berocca which had clearly been opened.)
You can minimise the chances of your bags being rifled through by packing sensibly. In other words, don't store mobile phones, laptops, keys, coins or other metallic/electronic items in your checked luggage. This also minimises the chances of it getting damaged.
As to shrink-wrapping your luggage, I occasionally still see this on baggage carousels, but the practice seems to be on the wane. I suspect it was a slightly paranoid reaction to convicted drug smuggler Schapelle Corby and her story about drugs magically appearing in her boogie board bag.
If you're worried about this sort of thing, a padlock will provide the same piece of mind. This won't necessarily ensure security, but then neither does a sheet of plastic.
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