If you check in for a flight at the airport and then get on a later one instead, your bag may remain on the original flight and arrive at baggage claim hours before you do. Who watches it in the meantime? Hard to say. Alert baggage staff may spot it and secure it -- or not. While researching a story in 2006, I watched many bags circle carousels for hours at a time at Los Angeles International Airport. I didn't see any staff check the claim checks against bag tags as passengers left the claims area, a practice that many airlines seem to have discontinued years ago. Sometimes, of course, you can't avoid a last-minute switch, if for instance you get bumped from your flight or miss a connection. But sometimes you can, if for instance you volunteer to give up your seat in return for a voucher or other compensation.
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