Fact or Fiction: Does Red Luggage Get Loaded Into Airplanes First?

A viral TikTok video caused an uproar for suggesting that airplane baggage handlers put red suitcases into the cargo hold first. We talked to airline staff to find out if that’s true.

close-up of the side of a red hard-case roller suitcase with blacker zippers

TikTok user airportlife posted a video that said, “Do you know why red bags are loaded first?”

Photo by American Green Travel on Unsplash

A recent viral TikTok video from @airportlife_ showed an airline worker loading roughly a dozen red passenger suitcases into the belly of a plane before loading a suitcase of any other color.

The short clip posed the question, “Do you know why red bags are loaded first?” Some commenters suggested that the red color serves as a visual cue for the baggage handlers at the other end of the trip to signal they are almost finished removing all the suitcases. Others added to that idea, positing that if the last bags, tucked into the back of the cargo hold, were brightly colored, they’d be less likely to be left behind accidentally. Either way, the upshot of this ordering process would be that red bags are the last to appear at baggage claim.

But is the video true, or were more than 81.1 million viewers (and counting) misled? To find out, we asked a handful of airlines to share more information about how bags are loaded. This is what they had to say.

“As someone who actually started at Delta as a ramp agent loading and unloading bags (among numerous other things) for departing and arriving flights, I can confirm that there’s no truth to this red bag commentary on TikTok,” Drake Castañeda, who now serves as a communications manager at Delta, told Afar.

Similarly, in a response video also posted on TikTok, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines said the red bag video was “nonsense” and that it “doesn’t matter” what color bag you fly with.

In terms of stacking order, Castañeda said Delta prioritizes the bags of travelers who have elite status on Delta or another airline in the SkyTeam alliance; that status is indicated with a special yellow tag added during check-in and ensures that those bags will get to baggage claim first. In the next layer of prioritization, baggage handlers separate connecting bags versus “local” bags (i.e., a checked bag that is staying where the plane lands) to help expedite them to the conveyor belt. But beyond that, bags aren’t sorted; they are simply loaded in the random order in which they were stored in the holding area before boarding.

Alaska Airlines spokesperson Cameron Greenberg told Afar that their process is largely the same, though they (and other airlines) make a point to prioritize any mobility aids and assistive devices owned by guests with disabilities. Those items are loaded last and offloaded first, so they can be returned to the guests as close to the aircraft as possible, as mandated by Part 382 of the Air Carrier Access Act.

For travelers with red bags, having the myth debunked should come as welcome news; it means they don’t have to worry about waiting longer than other fliers to be reunited with their luggage.

Bailey Berg is a freelance travel writer and editor, who covers breaking news, trends, tips, transportation, sustainability, the outdoors, and more. She was formerly the associate travel news editor at Afar. Her work can also be found in the New York Times, the Washington Post, National Geographic, Condé Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, the Points Guy, Atlas Obscura, Vice, Thrillist, Men’s Journal, Architectural Digest, Forbes, Lonely Planet, and beyond.
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