In the last few months, such companies as Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, tour operator Pleasant Holidays and Royal Caribbean International have begun offering off-site flight check-in, with luggage delivery, as an option for their customers.
Here's how it works: The service tags your bags and issues your boarding pass at your ship, hotel or home. Then it delivers your bags to the airport for security processing, letting you skip the ticket counter. (You still have to go through security, of course.) When you arrive at the airport on the other end, your luggage pops out on the carousel with everyone else's.
Two companies offer door-to-door service from your home each way — for a price.
The delivery services I contacted charge $10 to $60 per person each way. But guests at more than 20 hotels at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida pay nothing; Disney is picking up the tab through Dec. 31, 2006. Hawaiian Airlines does the same for first-class passengers.
If this all sounds familiar, it's because several years ago a company called Certified Airline Passenger Services, or CAPS, based in Henderson, Nev., ran a remote check-in service out of 13 hotels and a rental-car station in Las Vegas. It charged $6 per person.
Then came the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Citing security concerns, the federal government pulled approval for such services, and CAPS folded.
The government later let private companies again check in luggage from sites outside the airport. Even now, there are only three such operations. Launching a service takes months of negotiations with airlines, the airport and the federal Transportation Security Administration, all of which must approve it.
But the scrappy pioneers in this industry say business is booming. They expect to add dozens of airports, cruise ports and airlines in the next year.
"We're off the charts," said Craig Mateer, chief executive and president of 2-year-old Baggage Airline Guest Services, or BAGS, in Orlando. "We're doing tens of thousands of passengers a day. Last year, we were doing maybe hundreds a day."
The company's first job, in 2003, was delivering bags between Orlando's Rosen Centre Hotel and the airport. Now, its clients include various hotels and convention centers (including Walt Disney World) in the Orlando area, Atlanta and Boston, plus cruise lines in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. It employs about 500 people.
In the next few months, the company plans to add six airports and several more port cities, Mateer said.
BAGS, whose website is http://www.airportbags.com , charges $10 per person at hotels and convention centers and $15 per cruise passenger for service each way, to or from an airport. It doesn't do home pickup or delivery. Your checked-bag limit is whatever the airline sets, Mateer said. If you're over the limit, BAGS collects excess fees on behalf of the airline.
Disney World guests flying on any airline into Orlando's airport can use the service, which Disney dubs Magical Express; those flying out must be on American, Continental, Delta, Song, United, Ted or Northwest — airlines with which BAGS has contracts.
A smaller company, BaggageDirect, http://www.baggagedirect.com , which has 18 full-time employees and is based in Newport Beach, focuses on travel to and from Hawaii. Unlike BAGS, it will pick up luggage at your home. Operating out of LAX and the Honolulu and Maui airports, BaggageDirect works with Aloha, ATA, Continental and Hawaiian airlines and Pleasant Holidays, which packages trips for nearly 500,000 travelers a year to Hawaii, Mexico, Tahiti and other destinations.
Typically, you call the company with your flight information and set an appointment for employees to pick up your luggage and issue your boarding pass. They take it by van to the airport for the TSA to process in off-peak hours. It's held in a secure area for later loading onto your flight. The service costs $30 for the first passenger, $15 for each additional passenger. Charges are doubled if you want the company to deliver your luggage from your destination airport to a hotel or other place.
Like its bigger competitor BAGS, BaggageDirect is expanding. It plans to add San Diego airport June 15 and hopes to begin international service with Singapore Airlines, pending TSA approval, said BaggageDirect President Jeff Gottfredson.
The third company, Bags to Go Inc., (954) 489-1600, based in Ft. Lauderdale, works with cruise lines, charter companies and the Ft. Lauderdale airport. It charges $15 to $20 per person each way, depending on the distance, said Keith Wiater, owner and chief executive.
As a consumer, I have some concerns about this new industry. Who, for instance, do you call if your bag gets lost or damaged?
When I asked BaggageDirect's Gottfredson this question, he replied, "You can call us or the airline. We have a 24-hour call center."
BAGS' Mateer said: "You deal with the airline, and they handle the claim. If there's any disagreement, BAGS and the airline will deal with that, as per our contract." He explained that BAGS acts as an agent of the airline.
For the record, Gottfredson and Mateer said their services had not lost or damaged any bags so far.
As for the reliability of their employees, BaggageDirect and BAGS say their staffs are subject to the same rigorous background checks that airport employees undergo.
As with all new ventures, much remains to be sorted out in this fledgling industry.
Hear more tips from Jane Engle on Travel Insider topics at latimes.com/engle. She welcomes comments but can't respond individually to letters and calls. Write to Travel Insider, L.A. Times, 202 W. 1st St., L.A., CA 90012, or e-mail email@example.com.