Why do people wait outside the airport in the skycap line?

Scene: This morning, Oakland airport, terminal 2. It’s rainy. Everyone at this terminal is flying on Southwest. Outside on the curb stand people lined up for half an hour in the skycap line, many clutching their boarding passes.

We walk inside, the nice lady says “if you have your boarding pass, go through this short line and check your bags. If you don’t, go through this longer line”.

Both are shorter than outside.

Bags are checked in 3 minutes, my fiancee’s mom is on her way, wa-lah.

What is the point of the skycap line?

Not having to lug your heavy bags inside?

You get to tip the skycap. Also, it’s more convenient.

Not knowing that there’s a shorter line inside?

The SkyCaps, not unfamiliar with collecting tips, aren’t gonna say anything…

It’s an airport tax on stupid or lazy people.

Or, in most cases, a convenience for people in a hurry. I use the skycaps all the time when I’m running late. In most instances, you do end up saving some time.


I think it has to do with the sheer confusion that can be rampant in an airport that you aren’t familiar with. Or a terminal that you aren’t familiar with. Cabbie drops me off at JFK, I see vast masses of people everywhere, chaos, confusion, my reptile brain tells me to find the first thing that looks like a line and grab a spot as soon as possible because valuable seconds are being wasted!!!

I have found myself in the skycap line simply because I didn’t know where the hell else to go. Then sometimes I migrated elsewhere after further observation. Airports are fiendishly confusing to the uniniated, and each airport is fiendishly confusing in its own way. I don’t think stupidity has anything to do with it.

I have always avoided the skycap line because I absolutely hate to fucking tip somebody for something I can do my own damn self if I’m willing to walk a few extra steps (see valet-fucking-parking in Los Angeles…I can see the space I want from here, why should I pay some stranger to drive MY CAR five more feet? The space is RIGHT THERE! I even went to a library once in this wacky town that had valet parking. Ack.).

My wife, on the other hand, always wants to use the sky cap, and almost always does so when she is on a business trip. The main reason she does so is that her suitcase is almost always a little bit over the weight limit–she must pack a lot of printed material for the seminars she delivers–and the sky caps almost never weigh the bags. So the tip ends up saving her about twenty bucks.

Now that we have a toddler, traveling is such a ridiculous production that it’s easier to check stuff at the curb if there’s no line. Wrestling all our bags, and his bags, and his car seat, and him, into the airport without making three trips is nigh impossible these days.

“Oh the ferocity with which he counts your luggage.”


You have to be running pretty damn late - the most amount of time I ever have had to wait (coming out of LAX or Newark, two really busy airports) is 10 minutes. Self check in terminals FTW, so to speak.

I only used a skycap once. I was flying out of Vegas (McCarran Airport FTL) and got there about 20 minutes before departure. I had a box that needed to be checked (too big for carry-on) and had to tip the dude and check in with him to get it to the plane in time. It wouldn’t have made it from the normal check-in lines.

I generally use the Skycap when it looks significantly shorter than the indoor line. This is pretty common when I fly JetBlue out of JFK.

I never use it. I always go inside. It’s just not that different, and I’d rather save the money on tips. Besides, with electronic ticket kiosks, it all move very fast.

I <3 the kiosks. The only thing that sucks is when all the available kiosks are taken by grandpas, all of them scratching their heads and poking randomly at the touchscreen.

Yeah, it’s funny. In spite of the continued griping by everyone about airports, I’ve found that my airport experience in the last few years has dramatically improved. (basically, since they introduced the kiosks) It feels like I can get through check-in and security much faster than before.

Oddly enough, in spite of the clear time savings to be had by self check-in at the airport, I still disdain self check-out at the supermarket as a shameful penny-pinching ploy by the supermarkets.

It depends on the airline I’m using and what class I’m flying. If the airline is a US-based major airline, such as American, Continental, Delta, et al, and I’m in economy, the skycap line is almost always shorter than the line inside. I’ve found this to be true at every major airport in the US. Personally, I don’t mind tipping $2 per bag not to have to wait in line for 30 minutes or more, which is the standard wait time for AA at LAX at the hours I generally fly.

If I’m in business class (often, as my standard contract with clients requires business class for any flight with a leg of 4 hours or more duration), then I go inside. Most airlines have a specific check-in line for business class and the wait is rarely more than 2 or 3 minutes.

Because the scene you described is normally the exception. As someone who travels quite regularly, my experience has been that the skycab line is normally significantly shorter than the lines inside. Typically, they’re non-existent.

I think that’s the case for two reasons:

  1. Some people are ideologically opposed to paying for something that they think should be free.
  2. Some people don’t understand what the skycab line is.

Personally, I always think it’s worth it to go to the skycab line. Next time you’re in line, waiting to check your bags, ask yourself: Would I be willing to pay a few dollars to get out of this @$#% line and have some extra time to grab a bite/peruse magazines?

I’d be willing to take a taxi that flies through the air. That sounds cool.

Maybe it’s just SFO and Oakland then, because the skycap lines always seem long, and won’t save any time. Recently, I’ve never waited more than 5 or so minute in a checkin line.

I really like the checkin kiosks, although the less-than-computer-savvy people kinda bug me. I was helping my future mother -in-law check in, and she pressed the button and just stood there for a couple seconds before my impatience kicked in, and I started checking her in.

Ditto. When I fly out of my home airport (CVG-Cincinnati) the skycap is almost always readily available with no waiting, whereas the line inside can be several people deep. For $1 a bag I can check my stuff with him and simply head to my gate. One other bonus, I have yet to lose a bag checked by a skycap, but I’ve had several mishandled by the agents inside.

I won’t use the skycaps at other airports where they have lines though. If I’m going to wait in line, it may as well be inside.

I’m not sure what airport you’re talking about, but in the NY\NJ area the Skycap is usually faster.