Why the skycap might be your best friend at the airport

Lines at the airport – is there anything less fun? They're inevitable, sure, but did you know that some of them are easily avoidable? Not the security line, of course – trying to skip that one could get you on the 6 o'clock news, these days. If you're checking bags, though – for that one, no need to stand around. Just talk to your friendly curbside skycap.

You've probably noticed them working outside the terminal in all sorts of weather. Perhaps you've never bothered to enlist their services, either because you don't know what it is they're standing around for, or you do know, and you assume that the extra cost isn't worth it.

Maybe in the old days, when you could just dump half your life on the conveyor belt and watch it slip away to Cancun ahead of you, sure – maybe skycaps were a little bit of a luxury. These days, however, with airline charging nosebleed-high fees for checked luggage, the bag drop lines can be painfully long, filled with passengers furiously trying to figure out how to repack their stuff, or picking fights with the guys behind the desk because the idea of paying $100 to get a bunch of clothes to their destination makes them furious and they've taken leave of their senses. It can be a real scene.

Skycaps to the rescue! They're standing right there – avail yourself. Pay your bag fees online, if applicable  (it helps to get over the sticker shock before you arrive at the airport, you've got enough on your mind on the day of travel ) and just drop everything off at the curb.

While there can sometimes be lines at the curb as well as inside, they're never as long. And while you didn’t hear it here, skycaps tend to be a little more generous than the airline representatives inside should your bags just so happen to be a couple of ounces over the weight limit, or if you're an inch or two beyond the standard 62 linear inch limit after which bags are charged an extra “oversize” fee. Their services, quite simply, can save you more than time.

Best of all, most airlines don't charge for curbside check-in (some still do, but it’s minimal, see chart). Of course, whether or not there's a fee, it's definitely standard practice to tip your skycap $2 per bag or more.

And for goodness' sake, please tip – these guys could use the extra dough: the typical hourly salary of a skycap runs anywhere from the your typically pathetic minimum wage to $10 per hour. They really do work for tips. To boot, they're not employed by the airlines, so they don't enjoy the union protections afforded airline employees. They're not unlike the valet parking guy at your favorite restaurant, but they do a lot more heavy lifting, and they spend a lot of time dealing with people who generally aren't nearly as cheerful as your typical restaurant patron. So, you know – be nice.

For a look at which airlines offer skycap services – and what other time-savers are offered curbside – click on over to our handy chart.

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