Travel etiquette tip: Wait in line for your suitcase. For small planes, at least.

small planeLast week I flew on a number of regional jets. I don’t hate them, exactly. It’s just that they’re so darn, well, small. The aisles are small, the seats are small, omg the lavs are so so small, and the overhead bins are small. So small that anything resembling a normal sized carry on has to be gate checked.

For the last several years I have been  able  to avoid gate-checking on regional  jets by bringing my small suitcase that can squeeze into the overhead. This particular trip, though, I had so much work stuff to bring–giant tablecloth, two huge laptops, supplies for demonstrations, etc–that I needed my full-sized suitcase. I knew I would need to gate-check it, and accepted that I would  have  to spend ten to fifteen minutes waiting for it when landing in Phoenix.

Typically when gate-checking those departing the plane line up to one side of the  jet-bridge to wait for the luggage. There are a number of reasons for it. To crowd around would block the exit to the plane, and to line up on both sides would make passage difficult for most  people. Most people understand that when they come out of the plane they go to the end of the line. Yes it can make things more difficult for those getting off the plane last but in my experience that’s just what people do.

Which made it really surprising last week when I was in line, patiently waiting for my bag. A family of four came out, and the man glanced at the line and headed for the end. His wife stopped him. “What are  you doing?” she said. “We have to wait for our bag!” He said, “I know, I was going  to the end of the line.” And then she said, “Why can’t we just wait here?”

At this point I was listening avidly (and as covertly as possible). Was he going to try to cut in line? Crowd around the door? Line  up on the  other side of the wall? Any of these would have been very irritating since there were plenty of people still left on the  plane. But he learned closer to her (as I strained to hear) and  said, “There’s a line. We need to wait our turn.” She sighed, loudly, but gestured to their kids to follow them to the back.

I am trying to give her the benefit of the doubt and assume she just doesn’t fly often enough to know what to do. But the  polite thing to do is go to the end of the line. Once the bags start coming out the line usually moves pretty quickly, but it isn’t fair to others to just block the front of the line. As  you see your bag come up, just go grab it then get out of the way.

(Side note: When I first wrote the title of this post it just said, “Wait in line for your suitcase.” As I was writing I realized that that title is a bit misleading! No need to wait in any lines at baggage claim–this really only pertains to the small planes where you have to hate check. Just to clarify!!)

Editor’s note (three years later): There has been some excellent discussion in the comments, and I think it’s time for clarification. This is less about lining up to wait your turn, but lining up to get out of the way so that a) people can continue to depart the airplane; and b) so the people waiting for their suitcase can see if their bag has been brought up. Please don’t clump around the door where the bags come in, as this causes congestion and delays for everyone! But there is no need to “wait your turn” in the traditional sense.

Readers, what do you think? Do you go to the end of the line to wait for your bag after gate-checking on regional jets?


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  1. It sounds like your perspective is pretty rational. Sadly, the line is a line for a reason.

  2. Yes! This is a pet peeve of mine. I live in Podunk, so the plane to DFW is teeny and requires gate-checking bags. WHY do people think it’s okay to NOT go to the end of the line as they emerge from the plane?? Thankfully, most gate agents at DFW are stern about pointing them to the line and not allowing them to crowd around at the front of the line.

  3. Eh, I do line up as you are describing, but it’s not really a “line” in the traditional sense. The suitcases don’t come out in the order that people are lined up. It doesn’t really matter where you are in the “line.” Your suitcase comes out, you go grab it, you move on. Whether someone cuts the line or not doesn’t affect when I get my suitcase (maybe just how many people I have to fight past to get to the front to get it). I’m all about appropriate line etiquette, but this one just doesn’t really bother me (and I fly almost exclusively on regional jets with gate check, so I’m abundantly familiar with this drill).

  4. I agree with RR above. I just got into an argument with a guy because when I got off the plane there was a “line”, I was heading to the back, but there was a large gap in the “line” against the wall. So I filled it in, probably halfway down the jetway. Anyway, a guy 2 or 3 away from me said, rudely, “get in the back of the line”. I said, it’s not a line, in the traditional queuing and waiting your turn sense, it was simply a “horizontal muster formation” to allow room for others to pass. We argued, exchanged pleasantries, but I’d be damned if I’d walk back to the far end of the muster formation. Sure enough, his bag was the first one to come off so he had to do the walk of shame to get his bag while I taunted him with “no cutting” in line comments. He wasn’t happy. :))

  5. @Aj You know, I think you are exactly right. What bothers me about this situation is when people stand in a clump near the place where the bags come out, which causes delays and congestion for everyone deplaning as well as those trying to see if their bag has been brought up. So the line is less about waiting your turn and more about streamlining the process, lol. But I like your explanation of the “horizontal muster formation.” Perfect descriptor.

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