Luggage is loaded into containers, in Wide Body airliners (as mentioned here). Why is this required to be done? Why don't they simply keep the luggage in the luggage compartment? Why is loading the luggage piece-by-piece time consuming, and at the end, in second photo mentioned there, the luggage is being loaded piece-by-piece. What is that?

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    $\begingroup$ The link in this question already explains almost all points of the question. The only thing possibly unanswered is why some pieces of luggage (shown in the second photo) were not put in ULDs. The airline can easily manage a few pieces of luggage handled this way (compare the two photos: five ULDs on one conveyor vs. six individual pieces on the other!). But the added cost of handling all the luggage that way is well worth avoiding. $\endgroup$ – David K Aug 6 '15 at 14:24
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidK The photos in the linked answers clearly show two different planes, not one plane being loaded partly with containers and partly with loose baggage. The first is a Japan Airlines 747 (actually being unloaded); the second appears to be a 737, in the livery of some airline that I don't recognize. $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Feb 11 '17 at 12:50
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidRicherby Good point; according to information from Boeing, passenger 737s don't use ULDs. Those are not just gate-checked bags, then. As far as I can tell, however, the answers below did not pick up on the difference between aircraft. $\endgroup$ – David K Feb 11 '17 at 13:54

The central cargo hold is usually pretty big and open, if cargo was placed in loosely then it might shift in flight which can cause the center of mass to shift or damage the walls of the hold. Putting them in containers and fixing those down will prevent that.

The containers can also be weighed before hand and their position set to ensure the center of mass ends up where it should be. With loose cargo the pilot would need to rely on the intuition and experience of the loaders to ensure that they don't put all the heavy stuff on one side.

Loading loose luggage requires that the loader in the cargo hold handles each bag while stacking them. The hold also needs to be full enough that the luggage can't shift around.

The smaller forward and rear cargo holds (or on smaller planes) can still accommodate loose luggage (or more precisely they are too small for the containers to fit). They will also have netting to provide barriers against shifting.

  • $\begingroup$ You are right. Any steep takeoff at full power would send everything towards the back, leading to a rapid tail-heavy condition, stall, and crash. $\endgroup$ – DefenestrationDay Aug 6 '15 at 13:01
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    $\begingroup$ If you want to see some tragic footage of what happens when a load shifts: youtube.com/watch?v=lksDISvCmNI $\endgroup$ – Wayne Werner Aug 6 '15 at 22:59
  • $\begingroup$ @WayneWerner Sure but when your cargo is five military armoured vehicles, the effects aren't really comparable to a passenger plane full of people and their luggage. $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Feb 11 '17 at 17:53

Why is this required to be done?

As far as I know, this is not required by law, it is an operational practice by airlines. According to Wikipedia "It allows a large quantity of cargo to be bundled into a single unit. Since this leads to fewer units to load, it saves ground crews time and effort and helps prevent delayed flights."

Why don't they simply keep the luggage in the luggage compartment?

baggage can be loaded into ULDs while the aircraft they are intended for is still in flight. This reduces turn-around time. Aircraft only earn money when they are in the air, on the ground they bleed money from the airline's shareholders. Airlines try to keep aircraft in the air and avoid having them on the ground as much as possible.

Why is loading the luggage piece-by-piece time consuming

Because luggage is not of uniform size, shape and strength. Therefore it is a labour-intensive process not especially amenable to full mechanisation.

It simply takes longer to load 50 (say) randomly shaped objects than it does to load one object of standardised shape and size.

at the end, in second photo mentioned there, the luggage is being loaded piece-by-piece. What is that?

I don't know, but it seems plausible that some passengers are willing to pay for their luggage to be carefully hand loaded. I.e. first-class. This allows those passengers to pay for an express boarding process and spend less time in the airport.

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    $\begingroup$ baggage can be loaded into ULDs while the aircraft they are intended for is still in flight. That. Keeping aircraft on the ground costs money. Loading the cargo in larger containers up front saves time while loading the aircraft. $\endgroup$ – Mast Aug 6 '15 at 21:44
  • $\begingroup$ It's hard to tell but it looks like the second photo shows a B737 which is not a wide body and therefore does not have accomodation for ULD's in the belly. $\endgroup$ – TomMcW Aug 8 '15 at 20:45
  • $\begingroup$ @Mast then why do LCCs not universally use ULDs (or other containerised storage to include 737s here!), given they almost always have shorter turn-arounds than most wide-body aircraft? $\endgroup$ – gsnedders Feb 10 '17 at 13:06
  • $\begingroup$ @gsnedders Ask them, or ask a separate question on this SE. I don't know. $\endgroup$ – Mast Feb 10 '17 at 20:17

Well there are several advantages of loading the luggage in unit load devices (ULDs) such as:

  • In ULD, the luggage suffers much less shock than it would, if left alone. Else, the incidence of baggage manhandling would increase several times. We are already losing \$2.58 bn/year due to this.
  • ULDs lead to better use of aircraft cargo space. Stacking the luggage one over the other would be a very time consuming and tiring job, and if it is not done, then a lot of cargo space of aircraft would be wasted. ULDs help prevent this.
  • ULDs are cost effective. Compare the cost of 100s people busy in stacking the luggage, and one conveyor belt doing the job.
  • ULDs are safer, in the way they prevent unauthorized access to the luggage.

And, in the second picture shown there, the luggage is being loaded into luggage hold. Which has several Pallets/Nets for storing small ammount of luggage. Usually, they are used to store some small cargo belonging to first class passengers.

  • $\begingroup$ I removed the mathjax to avoid unnecessary calls when loading the page. $\endgroup$ – Federico Aug 6 '15 at 7:29
  • $\begingroup$ OP asked if luggage is required in containers, not if it's advantageous. Also you don't explain why this is less time consuming. Finally, how did you come up with 100 people? How many people are needed to fill and load the ULDs? $\endgroup$ – Stelios Adamantidis Aug 6 '15 at 8:30
  • $\begingroup$ I missed the 's' there! By CS, it's less time consuming because machines are doing the work while handling ULDs, and at last I am sorry because I can't provide you with any numbers regarding people needed to fill and load the ULDs. $\endgroup$ – anshabhi Aug 6 '15 at 15:05

Think about the benefits of containerisation. Ships could take days to unload if they carried many different items like lumber, sacks of corn etc. Along came containers and now you can unload a ship in hours. The labour intensive part of loading/stacking is distributed toward the containers themselves, and thus frees up the expensive capital item such as a ship or plane to be turned around more quickly. It all makes economic sense. so is it required? yes, if you wish to stay competitive and in business it is.


There are some safety and security aspects to containing luggage within containers. When content leaks, goes bad, or even explodes, the container may serve to limit the damage to other luggage within the aircraft, along with the aircraft itself.

  • $\begingroup$ The link is now dead but I'm skeptical about it mitigating explosions: explosions usually become more of a problem when they're confined. $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Feb 11 '17 at 17:49

Also, if the airline is feeding flights to other destinations, baggage can be pre-sorted. For example, a flight into CMB (Colombo, Sri Lanka) is commonly used as a feeder service for onward travel to MLE (Male, Maldives). If all the MLE-destination bags are separated from the CMB-destination bags at the time of loading and are in their own ULDs, those ULDs can be simply moved into the MLE aircraft, saving the time to offload all bags, re-sort and separate the MLE ones, and then reload.


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