Q. I am travelling from Heathrow to Cusco in Peru via Madrid and Lima. My flights will be with BA/Iberia and LAN. Will I need to collect my bags at each airport and re-check them or do the airlines do this for me? Getting this information from the airlines seems harder than I had expected. Adrian Oliver, Herts
A. First, it's regrettable that the airlines can't help you; a good travel agent would. But here's the system. For most international flights with an immediate connection, baggage is tagged to the entry point for your destination country (in your case, this will be Peru's capital, Lima). This is the norm for "online" connections at an airline's hub, eg Air France via Paris, Lufthansa via Frankfurt and the Gulf-based airlines via Dubai, Doha or Abu Dhabi.
It also applies for many inter-carrier journeys – especially for alliances. British Airways, Iberia and LAN are all part of the Oneworld Alliance and you can certainly expect your bag to be transferred automatically at Madrid. Check that a tag with the code LIM is applied before the case disappears down the baggage belt at Heathrow Terminal 5.
So why is the bag not checked all the way through to your final destination, Cusco? Because the last leg, the hour-long hop across from Lima, is a domestic flight. As there is no customs check at Cusco, it must be examined in Lima. In my experience, this is the most cursory of formalities. Don't be surprised to be invited to press a button that triggers, randomly, a light – either green or red. The theory is that, if it is green, you waltz straight through, while if it is red then your possessions get minutely examined. In practice, you will probably be waved through, whatever the colour. You will then need to check the bag in again.
There are two big exceptions to this policy. The first is when you are transitting via the US. America has no transit lounges, and insists that all people and their possessions are examined upon arrival.
The other exception, which certainly won't apply to your journey, is low-cost airlines – particularly in Europe. Plenty of Scots fly on easyJet to one of the London airports, and change planes to Continental Europe. Every time, they have to reclaim their bags and nip around to the bag drop to check them in again.