Back when checking a bag didn’t cost an arm and a leg, everyone did it. Then, travelers began to cram all their belongings into carry-on bags. Now that airlines are starting to charge for carry-on bags, checking a suitcase makes more sense for many people. If it’s been years since you last checked a bag, the process might be unfamiliar. It’s pretty simple. Lines at the ticket counter can slow you down, though. On busy travel days, add an extra 30-minute buffer to the time you plan to arrive at the airport.

Checking Bags Inside the Airport

Depending on the airport and airline, travelers may be able to choose from multiple methods to check their baggage. Taking bags to the ticket counter always works. Even passengers who check in online or at a self-service airport kiosk can take their checked bags to the counter. The airport may have a dedicated area just for luggage drop-off, or you may have to wait in line to reach an agent.

At the counter, an agent will ask to see your boarding pass and have you place each piece of luggage on a scale. The maximum weight for a checked bag is generally 50 pounds. The airline may accept a heavier bag, but expect to pay a hefty fine for an overweight bag. Pay any fees related to checked bags at the counter, or prepay them online or at an airport kiosk. The agent should ask a few questions to verify that the bag doesn’t contain anything dangerous or prohibited, then print out a baggage tag to attach to the suitcase. He or she will provide a sticker with a tracking number that matches the number on the tag, in the event that the bag gets lost at some point during the trip.

Some passengers may self-tag their bags, if the airline allows it. Southwest offers a self-tagging option at kiosks in certain airports.

Checking Bags Curbside

Checking bags at the curb outside the airport is useful on busy travel days or whenever the terminal is crowded with passengers. Handing bags off to an airline employee allows passengers to skip any lines at the counter. Curbside baggage checking is only offered by some airlines at some airports, and even then only during certain hours. Generally, the passenger has to already have checked in for the flight and be able to provide a confirmation number or show the curbside employees a boarding pass, but some airlines (including American Airlines) have curbside check-in kiosks. If this option is available, it may be free or come with a small per-bag fee. Tip the skycap who takes your luggage $1 or $2 per bag.

Preparing Baggage to Be Checked

Check the current TSA guidelines regarding acceptable items in checked bags before finishing a packing job. Many items that aren’t allowed in carry-on bags can go in checked bags, but a few things – including electronic cigarettes, vaping devices and portable charges made with lithium batteries – must go in carry-on bags. If you’re packing any weapons or firearms in your checked bags, consult the airline’s guidelines; the TSA accepts most of these items, but each airline makes its own policies that passengers must follow.

Locking checked baggage? Check that those locks are TSA approved. If TSA agents need to open the bag during screening, they can use a master key to open certain locks without damaging them. If the lock isn’t TSA friendly, agents will cut it off. Unless the bag looks distinctive already, tie a ribbon or piece of colorful yarn around its handle to make it easier to spot on the baggage carousel.