There are social rituals everywhere, in every country. We call them etiquette but ultimately they become the rules for how we behave when performing a social task. In my travels back and forth I have noticed many of these rituals in the process of travel. The way Brits line up (or queue in England) for the ticket counters, observing strict codes of orderly conduct. My own approach is to get to the door of the plane as it opens and spring violently towards immigration, forms in hand. I usually stride to the front by the time I get to passport control and thus am often the first to baggage claim. More often than not the appointed carousel is not moving so I have to some how predict which shoot (there are usually two) the bags will eventually fall from and most importantly the direction of the bag traffic.
With Airports I know, JFK, Newark and Heathrow I can do this blindfolded. So for me, getting to the place where I know my bag is coming and placing myself precisely in line for my bag as soon as the belt moves is easy. What amazes me is how people at Heathrow will fight for a ‘front line’ position ANYWHERE on the belt loop. A Brit will secure his or her beachhead with the same zeal as the Germans secure a deck chair by the pool before breakfast. The principle is THIS IS MY POSITION and you’ll have to find your own. I have witnessed some people, unable to secure a front line position watch their own bags roll pass them until they can reach a hand into a gap by following their own bag around the belt. Not so Americans (at least not those in NY).
There is really no etiquette when it comes to baggage pick up. The small siren and orange light to alert you that the belt is about to start and so all the people gathered around the shoot prepare to pounce. It is actually better NOT to be in the front as people lunge forward and declare their bags right at the mouth of the carousel, a small pathetic ‘excuse me’ or ‘sorry – that’s my bag’ as though you are are somehow in their way. I of course am still a Brit at heart so I simple ignore the pleas to move over, push out my sharp elbows and stand firm until my bag comes before me.”