Airline passengers may know where they are going, but most have no clue what happens to their bags when they hand them to the agent at the airport and walk away.
American Airlines gave us exclusive access to their baggage operation at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago to see what happens to your luggage after it disappears.
We got to see baggage central on a slow day -- and checked out the complex system of belts and photo scanning devices that direct your bags to particular areas called sort piers. The bags move based on the destination information printed on the barcode on the tag.
The entire operation is monitored on a series of computer screens that detect any breakdowns, jams or other issues that interrupt the flow of baggage through the system. It's designed to make sure the process you don't see is also one you don't have to worry about.
American Airlines baggage operations manager Denise Wilewski said there are 40 miles of belts in the bag room.
"It's very quick. From the furthest point at the ticket counter to the furthest point at of the bag room -- if there's no interruptions with scanning or anything like that -- [your bag could make it to the plane] within seven minutes," Wilewski said.
After bags are sorted on the piers, they are then shuttled by electric carts from the belly of the terminal to the tarmac and the waiting planes above. Before the bags come out to the planes they are sorted by whether they are going on to a connecting flight, or heading to their final destination. Then they are loaded into the jets.
American moves 12,000 to 19,000 bags through O'Hare every day, and in order for flights to stay on schedule, bags have to leave the sorting area well in advance of scheduled departures so there's time to get them on the planes.
But inevitably some passengers will be arriving late and still need to get their luggage loaded -- and that's where the "after lockout" drivers come in. Those workers manually sort bags and make last minute runs out the planes so latecomer's luggage leaves with them.