Luggage Restrictions – Why And What?


Travellers around the world most likely agree that luggage rules and restrictions often are confusing as well as frustrating. This is especially true for those who often use different airlines to go places.

There is also the airport’s “Bermuda Triangle”, that sometimes makes your luggage disappear. But, the major problem is the inconsistency of rules and regulations about luggage. Hardly any two airlines have the same size restrictions, which is especially true when it comes to carry on luggage size.

To add to the problem, the airlines can change the rules to their heart’s content the way that they see fit. And that without prior notice.

But why do airlines put the rules up in the first place? What are the factors that will determine the luggage limitations? Let’s dig a little deeper!

Why the Rules?

As for other types of (public) transportation, fuel plays an important role when calculating the total cost. But compared to common land transportation methods, airplane fuel is way more expensive. The load that the airplane carries determines the fuel consumption. Hence, the airlines charge for extra luggage to compensate for the extra expense.

There is another reason why charging for extra weight is a logical step for the airlines to take. That is the need to keep the ticket as affordable as possible for everybody. The ticket price would skyrocket if the airlines divided the cost equally among the passengers. It would benefit people with lots of heavy bags and be unfair to those who only bring a light carry-on.

Money Is Not Everything

But the reasons go beyond balancing cost and income. It also involves advanced handling with a capital “H”. There are two sides of the story, with the same conclusion no matter from which side you look at it.

From the Airline’s Perspective

If you put yourself into the airline’s management shoes, you would see that managing hundreds of passengers’ luggage for one flight is not an easy task. I’m not an expert on the matter, but here’s my best guess on how the process would go. The airline has to:

⦁    collect all the bags and boxes and everything else that people bring along with them on their tripLuggage Handling
⦁    handle them with care so nothing’s broken
⦁    tag them correctly to make sure that everybody will get their belongings
⦁    make sure that nothing is left behind at the airport
⦁    stack all the items carefully inside the plane’s storage
⦁    fly them safely to the destination
⦁    unload and re-distribute all the items to their respective owner

Now, multiply that process by the number of scheduled flights for the day. Then multiply the result with how many days the airline has operated. Finally, add the complications of having to coordinate with other airlines as well as multiple airports’ management. I hope you get the picture.

From the Passenger’s Perspective

Looking at the problem from the perspective above, it would be less trouble for all if everybody would just bring a carry-on. Saving both time and money for all!

From the passenger’s point of view, there are several benefits of bringing only a carry-on and perhaps a personal item like a handbag. First, you will save yourself the waiting time both before and after your flight. You don’t have to wait in line to process your luggage. One thing that you can do to cut the waiting-in-line time is to come to the airport earlier. But you can’t do anything about it at the other end. You just have to stand by the carousel and wait for your bag to turn up.

There’s even the story of passengers of four airlines arriving at Gatwick Airport in Hartley, England. They were advised to go home without their luggage due to staff shortages at the airport’s South Terminal. Not what you want to hear when landing at your destination…

Second, carry-on luggage will save you from the risk of your luggage falling into the airport’s Bermuda Triangle. While the amount of missing or misplaced luggage might decrease with better management, it still happens quite often. Especially with obscure airlines in some obscure airports.

Third, other unthinkable things could happen when your bags are not within your immediate watching range. One user in a travellers’ forum shared a story about drug scam. The drug smuggler put the smuggled drugs into someone else’s bag to pass the custom. When I hear this I immediately envision years in prison! Yikes!

What Factors Determine the Restrictions?

We know that the cheaper, quicker, and easier move to avoid hassle with checked bags is to travel with cabin baggage only. But few travellers can survive a long trip with only a carry-on. If you can’t avoid bringing tons of things with you, all that you can do is to know how an airline decides on how big is big. What factors determine the restrictions?

Restrictions for hand luggage

Image source

The most obvious factor is the weight of your luggage. The lighter it is, the cheaper the charge is. But where’s the line? Is there a maximum load limit before the airline starts to charge you at all?

Different airlines apply different rules, but the basics are the same. If you can bring the bag with you to the cabin, it’s included in your cabin bag allowance. Some airlines limit the weight of this bag to 22 lbs; while others may set the line at 13 lbs. There are also other numbers on both ends of the scale. Finding a piece of lightweight carry-on luggage means you can bring more stuff with you!

Airlines also put restrictions on the size of the bag that you can bring to the cabin. The figures vary, as you can see in the table below, because the overhead bins of different carriers vary.

Outside of those limits, you will have to check your luggage and pay extra. How much depends on the weight.

Again, the figures and limitations vary from one airline to another. Always check with your airline or travel agent.

Saving Money With Timing

Timing is not related to luggage restrictions per se, but it can influence the price that you have to pay for your extra luggage. To save yourself some extra charge, it’s advisable to buy your extra load early. You can do it when you book your tickets instead of doing it on the spot just before boarding the plane.

Many airlines will give you a discount on luggage charge if you register it beforehand. Knowing the extra weight early allows them to plan their flight expenses better. This means that planning your trip and your luggage early will be good for everyone.

When in Doubt – Cabin Baggage Table

To help you save some of the boarding stress, here is a table of cabin baggage restrictions from some of the most popular airlines. Many airlines permit both a carry-on bag and a personal item. In the table are the measurements for a carry-on bag. A personal item can be a handbag, an umbrella, a jacket or something like that. It should be small enough to fit under the seat in front of you.

Note that the weight limits in the table include the personal item.

Airline Weight (lbs) Size (inches)
AeroMexico 22 22x14x9
Air Lingus 22 21.5×15.5×9.5
Air Canada 22 21.5×15.5×9
Air France 26/39.7* 21.7×13.8×9.9
Alaska Air No limit 24x17x10
American Airlines No limit 22x14x9
British Airways 51 22x18x10
Delta Airlines No limit** 22x14x9
easyJet No limit 22x18x10
Hawaiian Airlines 25 22x14x9
KLM 26 21.5×13.5×10
Lufthansa 17 21.5×15.5×9
Norwegian 22 21.5×15.5×9
Qatar Airways 15 19.5×14.5×9.9
Ryanair 22 21.5×15.5×7.8
Scandinavian Airlines 17 21.5×15.5×9
Thai Airways 15 22x18x10
Thomas Cook Airlines 13 21.5×15.5×7.8
Turkish Airlines 17 21.5×15.5×9
United Airlines No limit 22x14x9
Virgin Atlantic 22 22x14x9
Virgin America 30 50 linear
Vueling Airlines 22 21.5×15.5×7.8

*Depending on travel cabin  **Except for: Singapore 15, South Korea 22, Beijing China 22, Shanghai China 22
Table correct as of August 19, 2016.

The table above is only scratching the surface, as there are tons of other airlines in the world. Due to the vast variation of the rules and regulations applied by different airlines, it’s impossible to include them all here. This leaves us with an old saying: when in doubt, ask questions. Your best bet of getting the most reliable information is to ask the airline or your travel agent.

So plan ahead, pack light, and have yourself a great trip!

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