A drunk baggage handler flew from Kansas City to Chicago trapped inside a plane's luggage hold after he fell asleep inside.

The Piedmont Airlines employee, 23, survived 1 hour and 38 minutes in the pressurised and heated cabin of American Airlines flight 737 which took off at 5.52am on Saturday.

He was found when the plane landed and parked at its gate at Chicago's O'Hare Airport around 7.30am on Saturday.

Police say the handler, who did not have a cell phone during the flight, told them he was intoxicated and had fallen asleep. No charges were filed and he was sent back to Kansas City.

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American said it is grateful the handler wasn't injured and is reviewing what happened.

Hold compartments are normally kept at between 60 and 70F (15 and 21C). Animals are often transported inside.

Planes normally have three baggage handlers and they must be accounted for by a supervisor before the plane leaves.

The 650km detour. Photo / Google
The 650km detour. Photo / Google

A source told USA Today the sleeping handler was overlooked because "no bags were loaded into the forward cargo hold and the door was closed."

In January 2017, a baggage handler flew unharmed in the hold of a United Express flight from Charlotte, North Carolina, to Washington Dulles.

In 2015, an Alaska Airlines flight from Seattle to Los Angeles turned around when the pilots heard banging and later realised it was a baggage handler trapped below.