If you’ve been in an international airport in the last, oh, 20 years, you’ve no doubt seen those travelers: the ones wheeling plastic-covered suitcases or getting them spun in several layers of the stuff at kiosks like Seal & Go, TrueStar, and Secure Wrap sprinkled throughout the terminal. But what are the rules surrounding plastic-wrapped baggage, and what’s it actually for? We dive in.
First things first: Why are people doing this?
An extra layer of protection, for starters. Baggage handlers have to move bags off and on planes quickly, and don’t discern between run-of-the-mill luggage and your more expensive pieces when loading and unloading. (One handler even previously told Traveler contributor Cynthia Drescher, “I see a lot of Louis Vuitton luggage, but having an expensive bag doesn’t mean I’m going to treat it with kid gloves.”) The plastic acts as a shield against scrapes, gashes, bumps, and bad weather, and will help prevent a full bag from bursting open. It may also deter would-be thieves from rifling through your stuff.
What other security does this offer?
Bags wrapped by Seal & Go, TrueStar, and Secure Wrap all receive a free sticker that allows the bag to be traced.
Where can I find companies that will wrap my suitcase?
These services are plentiful at international airports in Europe and Asia. In the U.S. you’ll find them at Miami, New York-JFK, and Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport. Secure Wrap stations at those U.S. airports wrap nearly two million pieces of luggage a year, according to CNBC.
How long does it take?
About a minute—leaving you plenty of time to get that pre-flight Auntie Anne’s.
Will the TSA unwrap my suitcase if it’s wrapped in plastic?
If there’s something flagged on their scanners—Explosive Detection System machines, or EDS—then yes. (The TSA says most bags screened overall by the system don’t warrant a physical inspection.)
And will they rewrap it?
“The short answer is no, TSA does not re-wrap luggage,” says a spokesperson. “But we make every effort to cause minimal impact on the luggage and its content by conducting targeted searches.” (Note: Some companies, including Secure Wrap, will rewrap your luggage for free if it is opened by the TSA.)
How much does it cost?
Prices vary by company, but the service usually costs between $15-20 for one regular-sized bag, and $22 and up for oversized/irregular items including golf clubs and bikes.
But isn’t this terrible for the environment?
It’s not the best. But because of issues with non-recycled plastics basically everywhere, companies use custom, environmentally friendly, non-toxic plastic that is 100 percent recyclable. Most companies even suggest you remove your plastic in the baggage claim area, and recycle it at the airport.