Step Back from the Baggage Claim

Change the World, Start at the Airport

by Jason Barger


It’s funny what a glass of wine can lead to. My wife and I had just put our two young boys to bed when the words “I think I may write a book” leaped from my mouth. The words almost surprised me and my wife had no idea where this was leading. The next thing I knew, the traveling adventure had begun.

My family dropped me off at the airport in our hometown of Columbus, Ohio. Over the next seven days I traveled from Columbus to Boston to Miami to Chicago to Minneapolis to Seattle to San Diego - 7 cities in 7 days without leaving the airport the entire time. I was sleeping on floors, eating rubbery chicken nuggets, and yes, watching people. I soaked in nearly 10,000 minutes of observations of humanity at all four corners of the United States. Yes, I’m strange - but, Life is a trip!

With over 87,000 planes in the skies over the United States on any given day, airports are one of the most unique spaces in our mobile world today. So many different people going different directions with different agendas. The airports are a place filled with great excitement, frustration, sadness and anxiety. In order for us to get from point A to point B, we must navigate our way through the obstacles, delays and cancellations that show up along our path. As a metaphor for the rest of our lives away from the airport, how do we choose to travel through daily life in our world? So, I needed to go and see what I would observe.

Oddly, the baggage claim was calling me. We all know the scene that I witnessed for 7 straight days. It is comical, yet frustrating. Our airplane lands at our destination city, and the hunt to claim what is ours begins. Hundreds (although it feels like thousands) of people scurry off the plane and begin their mad dash toward the baggage claim. Though everyone rushes, I can’t remember the bags ever arriving at the baggage claim ahead of me. The sound of suit pants rubbing quickly back and forth and the whistling of fast-rolling wheels of carry-on luggage fill the air as the herd stampedes down the long terminal, hits the bottleneck at the escalator, and finally spills out into the baggage claim area.

The crowd gathers in anxious anticipation. Once that obnoxious buzzer goes off (Can’t we come up with a better sound?), without fail, everyone scampers into place. Like Pavlov’s dog, everyone reacts subconsciously to the buzzer and runs directly to the carousel. Within seconds, a “human wall of entitlement” is created, each person with their shins pressed against the cold metal carousel. Slowly, the bags begin emerging from the hidden baggage land, and the human wall shifts as each individual brick jockeys for “the best” position.

If you are one of the many who doesn’t get out of the blocks quickly when the buzzer goes off, your 0.42-second lag-time costs you a spot at the carousel and an opportunity to see the bags. So you begin to bob and weave back and forth, jumping up and down to see over the tops of shoulders, dodging in and out of cracks, doing whatever you can to catch sight of your bags.

The ambitious percentage who arrive first at the carousel stand strong, protecting their spots, taking not even a second to let their eyes wander from the belt. Their knees are bent in an athletic stance, ready to pounce on the first bag that dares to look even slightly similar to their own. They do not budge an inch until they get their bags from the spot they earned.

For the frequent travelers, this scene is all too familiar. But, I kept thinking about what this reveals about us as human beings if we are hovering too close to the carousel? What metaphorical bags are we all trying to claim in our lives (money, success, recognition, friendships, love, security, etc.)? What obstacles show up along our path while we try to claim our bags? What spirit do we choose to share as we go through the process of claiming those bags? And, what difference does it make?

In the seemingly insignificant moments in our lives (such as at the baggage claim or any other string of moments in our day), what ripple effect does the spirit of our actions cause? Perhaps stepping back from the baggage claim in life is about gaining new perspective, including other people who also are gathered around that same baggage claim, and creating space so that a more significant spirit can emerge in our lives.

Whether you’re on your way to the airport right now, taking your kids to school or off to a business meeting, I wonder what it would mean if you were able to step back from the baggage claim and choose to travel gracefully today. I wonder what kind of footprints we all could leave during this trip we call life. I’m convinced that the more people who are committed to entering the hectic spaces in our world with a spirit of gratitude rather than entitlement, will indeed, change the world.

I’ll meet you at the baggage claim.


- Jason Barger is an Author, Speaker, Consultant and creator of the Step Back from the Baggage Claim movement and book. Learn more about this growing movement at


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