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Make friends with skycaps

If you hate to wait in long lines to check in your bags when you fly, maybe it’s time to avail yourself of skycaps.

If you hate to wait in long lines to check in your bags when you fly, maybe it’s time to avail yourself of skycaps. You’ve probably noticed them working outside airline terminals in all kinds of weather, but perhaps you’ve never bothered to enlist their services, either because you don’t know what they do, or you do know what they do, but don’t want to pay extra for what they do.

But trust us, now that airlines are charging more and more fees for checking bags, check in lines can sometimes be maddeningly long as passengers fumble with payment, rearrange the contents of their bags to make them lighter, and argue with check in agents about this hated new reality of flying.

That’s where skycaps come in. As Hugh Curtis, a retired construction supervisor from Matawan, N.J. discovered long ago, “Skycaps are right there. It’s so convenient. The lines are getting longer inside. We pay any bag fees online and just drop the bags off at the curb.”

Curtis has it right. Curbside check in lines are usually nowhere near as long as the lines inside. And although you didn’t hear this from us, skycaps are sometimes not quite as persnickety if your bag happens to be a couple of ounces over the weight at which extra fees kick in, or if it’s a couple of inches longer than the 61-62 inches in overall measurement at which even more fees kick in. So their services can save more than just time.

Most airlines don’t charge for curbside check in (JetBlue and US Airways do, $2 per bag). But whether or not there’s a fee, it’s customary to tip the skycap at least $2 per bag, although many people tip more. And please do tip, because skycaps don’t exactly live large.

Just two years ago, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that the annual base salary of a skycap is around $22,000. Essentially, these guys work for tips. They aren’t employed by the airlines, they aren’t protected by those strong airline unions. In essence, they’re like the valet parking guys at a restaurant. Over at the airport, however, the clientele isn’t exactly in a festive mood when it comes to paying for extra services.

In 2005, AA started charging a $2 curbside check in fee and its skycaps claimed that they lost tips as a result.

That resulted in a lawsuit from skycaps at Boston’s Logan Airport,

In February, a Federal judge in Boston allowed all American Airlines’ skycaps to join a class action lawsuit against the company.

For a look at which airlines offer skycap services and what other services they provide at curbside, see this Airfarewatchdog chart.

And to see what other travelers have experienced using skycaps, this is instructive.